There’s something to be said about experimentation and noise. Even the most simplistic rock band can transform themselves into something much more complex by adding a few guitar effects and background clamor; just look at The Beatles or The Rolling Stones — both bands pulled it off well, and their songs have become legendary.
Anton Newcombe’s The Brian Jonestown Massacre, an odd collection of musicians that have mixed the experimental with the accessibility of modern rock, have been doing this experimentation thing for a while now. With a diverse collection of albums that move from 1990s pop excess to the grounding of folk rock, Newcombe’s band has been fairly successful with experimenting over the years.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s thirteenth album, My Bloody Underground is just as experimental as anything else in their past, but this time around the band doesn’t feel nearly as tight as they once did. As their “best of collection” Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective reveals, this band has tried practically everything, but have done so within the confines of succinct pop songs. Now, the band’s sound seems like it’s been released into some other realm and allowed to dissipate into the stratosphere.
With that said, My Bloody Underground does have some great songs, and the band’s surrealist humor and tone still shines. The album begins with “Bring Me the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mills’ Wooden Leg (Dropping Bombs on the White House),” a hilariously titled song, although jarring and low-fi. In terms of album openers, this one summarizes the rest of the album well: it’s accessible enough to listen to over and over again, but has an off-color quality and is rife with experimentation. The guitars jangle along, as Newcombe sings, “so grab your silver bullets and your wooden stakes / And lock your fuckin’ doors for Jesus sakes” with a beautiful melody as the drums and electric guitars drown out everything else. This is essentially how the rest of the album goes, although some moments are much better than others.
As the album continues, the band starts to sound like they’re just randomly jamming, enjoying every second and seeing what happens. “The Infinite Wisdom Tooth / My Last Night In Bed With You” starts of with low-fi guitars, as the band stops so someone can tune the guitar. The rest of the song has a demo tape feel to it, and it’s sometimes hard to follow, but a beautiful jam nonetheless. Equally on “Who Fucking Pissed In My Well?,” the band jumps right into a far out mystic jam that includes acoustic guitar and sitar.
The album stumbles around like this until the fourth track, “We Are the Niggers of the World,” a straightforward piano jam that feels more like a junior high piano recital than a song worthy of Newcombe’s far out antics. Nevertheless, “We Are the Niggers of the World” provides an intermission in an album that’s about to get even more trippy, and the title also seems to allude to more deconstruction of The Beatles and their post-Beatles antics (possibly a nod toward John Lennon’s song “Woman is the Nigger of the World”?)
The rest of My Bloody Underground — indeed, the bulk of the album — spaces out, comes back for one more drag, then finally goes comatose. “Who Cares Why” is a spacey epic full of distortion and noise with an acoustic guitar riff thrown somewhere in there, and “Just Like Licking Jesus” takes some of the bending guitar riffs of bands like Modest Mouse and bends them even further through discombobulated amps. Right between these two tracks are “Yeah – Yeah” and “Golden – Frost,” which provide a sense of some direction as the band sticks to some straightforward songwriting. It’s still fucked up, though.
As the band continues, there’s more punk rock parody in “Automatic Faggot for the People,” mocking R.E.M. and killing political correctness along the way. The song centers around a driving beat, screaming vocals (filtered through a lot of reverb) and ecstatic guitars. It’s something we’ve heard before, but original enough to keep The Brian Jonestown Massacre fresh in our minds.
The album ends with “Black Hole Symphony,” a loud white noise epic. I suppose this song marks the end of music itself, summarizing the dark moments of this album as one large destruction of rock music as we know it best. That, with the band’s knack for irony in their lyrics and song titles, makes the album worthwhile.
Even though My Bloody Underground careens far into the unknown, and almost risks alienating listeners before it finally takes off, The Brian Jonestown Massacre have, once again, reinvented themselves. It’s definitely not an album for those unfamiliar with the band, and at times, the album lacks flow and connection. But in the end, those who understand the band will finally come to terms with what’s going on, and My Bloody Underground starts to make sense in some odd, demented way.