Don't confuse 'em with the Sex Clark Five, or the Martin Luther
Kinks -- The Brian Jonestown Massacre is the band you've been
hearing all the buzz about.
They're the ones who've put out eight albums in
four years, had over 40 members come and go, and have combined everything
from Dylan to Arthur Lee's Love to Charles Manson in their
anguished, and dead-serious harmony revolution. With Strung Out
in Heaven, BJM, having zigzagged through a grubby gamut which
featured everything from psych-pop and garage rock to acoustic
folkie-dokie with albums like Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request and
Thank God For Mental Illness, have at last reached the inevitable
mature, better-produced phase.
Reaching back through the history of rock, BJM combine 60's-style
trippy guitar effects, pulsating Hammond organs, and stoned, loose
harmony singing ("Lantern" really does sound like something off the Stones'
infamous Satanic Majesties album!) with rootsy, roughed-up
Folkways-cum-Dylan lead vocals to create... something altogether
different. Dr. Anton A. Newcombe's prolific persistence has paid off
this time, and while all their albums are worthwhile, this is
the one that'll grab your attention.
It's no pop confection, be warned. There's the occasional Byrdsy
12-stinged jangle here, as in "Going to Hell," but surprisingly
little jingle; there's sometimes a dreamy, floaty pop feel, and lyrics
about drifting clouds and seaside vistas as in "Let's Pretend It's
Summer," but generally the songs are permeated with a nagging,
jagged anguish -- not blah de dah indie angst, but
sparked, real emotion. The harmonica-laden "Wasting Away,"
for instance, complains that "The kids today got nuthin'
to say / they got nuthin' to say 'cos they taught 'em that way,"
yet far from any "we don't need no education" dark sarcasm,
the song is uplifting, because it nakedly issues
a challenge: if you are "born to be free," it asks,
"Why are you wasting away?"
Against these outbursts, the occasional light touch is welcome, as in
the Apples In Stereo-meets-The Searchers vibe of
"Jennifer," but even here, "the clouds are weeping
It all comes together best in "Got My Eye On You," which
opens with a bit of guitar-torturing right outta the
Electric Prunes songbook, against a Standells "Dirty
Water" beat that makes its over-the-top protestations
of passion oddly convincing. Inspirational Ad-Lib:
"Now looky here, woman-child, you gots to come back to
"Nothing to Lose" is a less successful melange, with
its "Me and Bobby McGee" refrain ("you aint' got
nuthin' but nuthin' to lose") -- a tepid borrowing (especially
when the next line is about being in someone else's "shoes").
And a few of the tunes seem Guided By Voicesly short and/or
partly-baked, but the lapses are few.
"Love" for instance, is a wild psychedelic organ/tambourine/fuzz gitbox
dirge. "Maybe Tomorrow," not the sweet Iveys/Badfinger almost-hit,
but a Chiltonesque gem, protests, "I'm feelin' fine / I don't
miss you at all" -- yeah, sure! "Spun" spins into a full-throttle
uproar: how'd you like to tell the girl who threw you over
that the other "boy's got shit for brains ... he don't even
know what I know?" The closer, "Wisdom," is demonic, not
play-scary, and not retro.
BJM have kept the faith, babies, and given
something back. They really do sound "Strung
Out in Heaven," and if you're ready, you can strap yourselves
in and join 'em there.