During its two-decade run, founding member Anton Newcombe has been the one constant in the ever-shuffling lineup of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band's twelfth album Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? sees the return of founding bassist Matt Hollywood who left the band in 1999 after an onstage altercation, which was captured in the 2004 documentary DiG!
"Tempo 116.7 (Reaching For Dangerous Levels Of Sobriety)" opens the album. It is a good atmospheric piece as what sounds like a tabla plays over programmed loops that have a Middle Eastern rhythm. During the second half of the song, someone blurts out something slightly unintelligible, sounding something like "unless you don't give a fuck to be free." It ruins the comfortable mood, which may be its intention, but the purpose is unclear.
In marked contrast, "Tunger Hnifur" comes thundering in with a fuzzed-out guitar and affected vocals. Drummer Dan Allaire pounds away during the chorus, smashing the cymbals and obliterating the words. Between the two songs, I yearn for more like this.
Noise builds up and "fuck" is shouted out. "Lets Go Fucking Mental" is a call to arms over distorted-sounding arrangement to lose yourself in the celebration, but with the title repeated over and over so often, it comes off like a desperate bit of rebellion. Dropping the F-word so many times doesn't accomplish much when you are over 17.
"White Music" is more of a sound collage with an unclear speaker talking underneath the noise but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, although I wasn't using headphones or drugs at the time I listened, which seem to be who the piece is geared towards.
"This Is the First of Your Last Warnings" (Icelandic version) has a sweet funk groove laid down as a Bjork-sounding woman sings along, but the vocals are again slightly buried in the mix so I can't figure out if I can't understand her or she's singing in another language.
If there were hints of post-punk and '80s alternative before, "This Is The One Thing We Did Not Want To Have Happen" completely embraces Joy Division. "The One" follows with keyboards that bring to mind New Order and Depeche Mode. Guitars also come to the forefront, making for a wonderful audio collision, but the vocals are buried so deep in the mix it makes you wonder what was the point of including them. Comes across like a mistake by the engineer. "Someplace Else Unknown" comes across as a latter-period Love and Rockets track with its rock sounds over programming.
One of the few times we get clear vocals and it's on their version of a European dance club song in "Dekta! Dekta! Dekta!" "Super Fucked" and "Our Time" are both rather forgettable as they drone on in different ways. "Feel It" is repetitive as well but the music is more engaging and dynamic.
The album closes with "Felt Tipped-Pen Pictures Of UFOs," another audio collage filled with keyboards/organs. Underneath the music John Lennon's press conference after his "Beatles being bigger than Jesus Christ" comment is heard. Some gal rambling idiotically about the band follows that. Not sure if it's a put-on mocking "Revolution 9" but regardless it's a terrible mess and a poor way to close the album.
Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? is better on ideas than execution. It has some very good songs that I would put on a mixtape, but I don't see ever putting on the entire album because the music and moods clash so much. I recommend checking out individual songs to see what appeals to you.