I'm not sure why, but I didn't hear of the Brian Jonestown Massacre until the release of the acclaimed documentary 'Dig!' in which they were obviously stars. BJM-mainman Anton Newcombe was reportedly unhappy with the way the documentary was edited, it seemed all the problem points in seven years were bundled together & the rivalry with the Dandy Warhols exaggerated when you realise Newcombe played on '13 tales from urban bohemia', still big ups 'Dandy's Rule OK' & appeared live with them last year.
The positive side of 'Dig!' is that they've found the audience that has so far eluded them and there's quite a bit of catching up to do after double-LP compilation 'Tepid Peppermint Wonderland' : debut LP 'Methodrone' (1995), 'Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request' (1996), 'thank god for mental illness' (1996), this LP, out-takes compilation 'Spacegirl & Other Favourites', 'Give It Back' (1997), 'Strung Out in Heaven' (1998), 'Bringing It All Back Home Again' (1999), the 'Zero' e.p. (2000), 'Bravery, Repetition and Noise' (2001), '...And This Is Our Music' (2003), 'We Are the Radio e.p.' (2005) & a rumoured new album due at some point this year (they are set to return to the UK in the Autumn). Having started with 'Tepid Peppermint...' I've listened to almost all of the albums and not found a dud one - I was expecting their debut to be a patchy ode to shoegazing, but it's great. The BJM at present remain a cult band somehow I can't see them doing Wembley Arena, and seeing them the other night I think Newcombe's stand-up comedy banter and the spacerock-jam at the end turned off the kind of people that listen to Editors and the Libertines...
'take it from the man!' has a great cover, Newcombe is quite the anglophile and his list of 'good sh*t' on his website includes Julian Cope/The Teardrop Explodes, the Bunnymen, the LAs, the Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Ride, & The Dukes of Stratosphear amongst others. Four of the songs are written by Matt Hollywood, who would later leave and form The Out Crowd. These are easily the weakest songs, tending to all be a but too Mary Chain circa 'Stoned & Dethroned' - the most interesting Hollywood-composition is the epic 'cabin fever' which has a great vocal & sounds like the missing link between Moby Grape & Beachwood Sparks with a psyched-out groove. The rest of the record appears to be penned by Newcombe, who remains the most talented guy associated with this band - a blend of Cope, Genesis P-Orridge (who appeared in 'Dig!' & gets a thank you here alongside tim leary, both of spacemen 3 & the dandy warhols), and Mark E Smith (the band members & folks who fall out with him still work with him and admire him, the shaman-vibe!). It should be pointed out there are artists/bands who have spun off/been influenced by BJM/Newcombe - Black Rebel Motorcyle Club, The Out Crowd, The Lovetones, The Quarter After, The Warlocks (who Newcombe played drums for at one point), The Dilettantes, Icelandic support band Singapore Sling & Miranda Lee Richards.
The songs are all fantastic - opener 'vacuum boots' sounding like a jangly Byrds-track with English-affectations - I think that Psychic TV's 'Godstar'-soundtrack was a major influence. It typifies them in that it's stock indie-alternative, but seems to have something more; the same time they're clearly retro, but manage to avoid that Primal Scream/Ryan Adams thing of sounding like an imitation. If Oasis had a song as great as 'vacuum boots' they wouldn't be laughed at in the street. Had The House of Love not used the title, 'who?' could be called 'The Beatles and The Stones' as it fuses 'Satanic/Sympathy'-Stones with 'Revolver/Rain'-Beatles - the "whoos!" jarring wonderfully against the Lennonesque-vocal ("I see yellow...") which is as great as the Lennon-style vocal found on The Pretty Things' 'Baron Saturday (heck, I sense a hint of `Pictures of Matchstick Men' in there!). 'Caress' almost sounds like old style rock and roll, a ramshackle joy that paves the way for the sublime ode to the Thin White one, `(david bowie i love you) since i was six.' This shows what a multi-instrumentalist Newcombe is, using the accordion in a way that seems to have come into fashion lately (see The Arcade Fire, Secret Machines) and showcasing a spacey-keyboard sound not far from some Cope-work ('Land of Fear', 'Jellypop', that bit at the end of 'Hobby') and the kind of thing he developed on the last BJM-album ('Here It Comes', 'Introesque').
'Straight Up and Down' is another one of those great psych-rock songs the band specialise in, one of their standards alongside 'Evergreen', 'Satellite', 'Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth' & 'That Girl Suicide.' The vocals are quite Jagger initially - the extended version at the end of the album is even better...'monster' kind of puts Mike Hollywood in his place, being the perfect Mary Chain sounding song - Newcombe brings that something more and offers a wonderful psych/surf guitar sound that William Reid only really bothered with on his 'tired of fu*king' e.p. The title track sounds wild, as if the 'Let It Bleed/Altamont/Sticky Fingers'-Stones were playing their first album; I'd take it over 'Exile on Main Street.' You have to love Newcombe's anti-Stones rant quoted on the sleeve, despite its libellous nature!
There's even a tribute to Syd Barrett ('My Man Syd') which isn't as great as that Television Personalities song - it doesn't even much sound like Syd/early Floyd, reminding me more of The Beatles and Beck's weirder side ('Stereopathetic Soul Manure'). The far too brief 'f*cker' is another one that makes me think of 'Fried'/'Hobby'-era Cope, Newcombe's acoustic/keyboard work is great stuff and on the last album he was beginning to sound a bit Krautrock (...then again I see that in anyone - Girls Aloud, The Moody Blues, The Like...). The rest of the album is as great, anyway...The Brian Jonestown Massacre. 'take it from the man!' - what's not to adore?