Hay, whaddaya get when when you combine Guns ‘N’ Roses level guitar wankery, Nirvana level angst, and Chumbawamba level Britishness and hatred of capitalism? These guys! Also, throw in lots and lots of gender play. There’s a sweet male nipple on the cover and the dudes are all applying makeup or looking wonderfully lesbionic in the insert. Yes, 1991 was a grand ol’ time. See, in one year’s time the entire scene would be imploded by Kurt Cobain’s merry band of pranksters, but before then nobody knew who would destroy hair metal and Reagan-Bush and rescue the world once and for all. MSP thought it would be them. The whole idea was that they would release this one album, sell tens of millions of copies, and break up afterwards. Fun, nay? Sadly, their idea actualized itself as being an epic, angry hair metal album, complete with all the musical tropes of the era but with lyrics filled with disdain and self-loathing. Nice idea, but the problem is that hair metal tropes were mostly pretty shitty. I’ll explain a few in the next paragraph.
The drums are mixed way too fucking loud for how slow they are. It’s like the drummer got into the engineer’s room and decided his banging on what sounds like empty plastic jugs needed to be up with the vocals. It’s not the drummer’s fault, that was the style for a type of music that was about to end in like six months, but it still sounds like Motley Crue back there. Nearly every song features awkward “choir of souls” singing in the chorus. It’s the worst way to encourage singing along. On that point, the songs are remarkably formulaic, going verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-(verse)-chorus. And there are EIGHTEEN songs. Which would be okay if they were unique or something, but there are a LOT of decent songs clogging up the album. It’s like watching a basketball team of ten sixth men play two games in a row. There are great songs, but when you listen to the whole thing they get swallowed in mediocrity. There are guitar solos dicking all over the place, because that was the style at the time. And they aren’t mean, combative solos like Nirvana’s or even Soundgarden’s: these guys wanted a damned hit. On that point: soundwise, this album is about 20 times more corporate than Nevermind or anything Stone Temple Pilots ever did. They really wanted to make it big so their statement would ring true. It permeates this shit in the worst way in the awful “Repeat (Stars and Stripes)”, an awful exercise in 1991-era sampling and dubcrap meant to appeal to what they thought American audiences would buy. Oh god, it’s so awful that, knowing it’s coming up in a couple songs, I want to start a nuclear war with Iran so they’ll target Toronto as it’s a hotbed for Judaism, just so I won’t have to listen to it. Of course, their missiles would never reach this far, they’d just obliterate all the nice people in Tel Aviv, so bad idea. It’s so bad, I can hardly stand the thought and OH GOD IT’S STARTING NOW DRINK DRINK DRINK. Everything sounds so laughably outdated that if someone made it today review sites would be praising it for how goddamned retro it sounds. And the statements, and there are many of them, are way way over the top in a way that reminds me of Courtney Love and Ani DiFranco. They’re always screaming about “nihilistic love” and “lonely wreckage” and “useless generations” and it’s a lot to bear.
If you’re still listening then you’re a strong, beautiful person and there’s a lot to love here. Fuck, listening to this thing is like dating Rimbaud. For one thing, lyricist, rhythm guitarist, and band figurehead Richey Edwards is quite beautiful. For another, he’s quite talented. The lyrical sentiments here, while overbearing, are a bunch of good causes dressed in a staggering amount of disgust and anger and sadness. His additions to the album art, so to speak, are significant as well, the liner notes being filled with depressing as shit quotes pertaining to each song, like “I listen to money singing, it’s like looking down from long French windows at a provincial town. The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad in the evening sun, it is intensely sad” fpr “Nat West Barclays Midlands Lloyds” or “I saw some piglets suckling their dead mother. After a short while they shuddered and went away (in part)” for “Stay Beautiful.” All of it intensely sad and depressing stuff. Easy to see why they didn’t sell as many copies as planned. Vocally, James Dean Bradfield has a pretty great white guy yell-growl. And the song content is up to it: they’re pissed at big banks, sexism, the monarchy, everything, Christianity, art critics, and themselves, all while bragging ceaselessly about how great they are both directly and musically. It’s a lyrical good time.
And musically, for a hair metal band they’re talented as a group of talented musicians. The riffs are solid, song in and song out, and the lyrical hooks are reliably quite good. That’s not easy for seventeen songs, and they pull that shit off. There isn’t a song here, aside from that one awful one, that’s actually any bad. The only question is which ones have better riffs and big choruses. Because they all have those. Sigh.
It’s quite good if you can take it seriously. I go back and forth, but I mostly like it. I’m a sucker for big hooks and catchy choruses and serious causes. When it ends I’m left wondering what the hell just happened in my ears. Try. Good songs are closer than they appear.