Even upon one’s first play through Bass Drum of Death‘s fourth album, listeners will quickly be able to note that its title is a complete fucking misnomer. Nothing about this album is “Just Business”; it’s impossible to not take this music personally because it IS THAT GOOD and DOES mark a spectacular potential turning point for the band. Simply put, “Just Business” rocks like a beast through two sides in thirty-five minutes and, while leaving winded, absolutely leaves listeners wanting more as well.
As soon as a stylus connects to the modulated spiral groove of the album and “Third Coast Dreaming” begins to play, listeners will instantly stiffen and come to attention with all the force that raw reflex affords. There, John Barrett gets back to basics for a minute as he lets his guitar and that big damned bass drum introduce the record before all the other pieces in the song – more cocksure guitar than one might expect in this day and age, most notably – lock down into place and begin a steady motion of melting faces for just under three minutes.
Listeners will find that falling in love with “Third Coast Dreaming” really is the height of simplicity; there’s nothing forward-thinking or innovative about the beat which propels the song, the quiet/loud/quiet dynamics, the sort of constipated guitar solo (which feels like the heir apparent to Jack White’s dynasty) pr the surly guitar tone, it’s right out of the book of rock orthodoxy – but that’s the beauty and brilliance of it. While half the world has sought to reinvent the wheel as they try to pump some fresh life into rock n’ roll, Bass Drum of Death just set it up and let it roll. Turns out, rock didn’t need saving, it was perfectly fine – it just needed the right hands on it and it has them here.
After “Third Coast Dreaming” overcomes inertia , the A-side of “Just Business” just keeps rolling, beautifully. “Too High” follows the rhythm of its predecessor pretty closely just to prove that such success wasn’t a fluke and then “Diamond In The Rough” makes whoopee with The Pixies’ bass-driven ecstasy before the band gets a little lean and mean for “Failing Up” (which, to be fair, plays more or less like a White Stripes rework with a bolder, Sixties-issue vocal performance and a snide Seventies punk demeanor), a little hymnal for “Heavy” and then reverting to the band’s swaggering and cocksure centre for “I Don’t Wanna Know” to close the side.In that end, listeners may find that they need to take a breath and heave it out hard again to really appreciate the sensation that the A-side of “Just Business” leaves with them in its wake.
Through these six cuts, listeners will know they’ve found something truly special with this album: it is a rock record which keeps the hard-nosed, hard-assed and raucous spirits of the music up front, but feels brand new, fresh and great too. Critics have recently been questioning how much life rock as a musical idiom still has in it in the 21st Century without just becoming a trite nostalgia trip, and the A-side of “Just Business” proves that there’s clearly no shortage – Bass Drum of Death clearly has some to spare, and they can’t be alone.
As soon as the stylus on their turntable begins to pick up the groove in the album’s B-side, listeners will find that there is no obvious break between the sides of “Just Business” – “Odds Are Good” retains the snide disposition of the A-side’s early play and presents a good counterpoint to the slower, stompier place that “I Don’t Wanna Know” left off. Here, there’s almost a sort of disappointment which wasn’t really present on the A-side too, but it fits incredibly well; lyrics like, “I wasted all my time on the outskirts of a dream/ And I smoked all my cigarettes trying to look mean/ And though it happens every time/ I can’t quit runnin’ down the line/ Wasting all my time on the outskirts of a dream” bring with them an infectious kind of sneer and ennui which echoes the time-honored anger that rock has carried with it for decades but, again, it feels fresh in this context.
That sense of anger gets absolutely palpable and the overdriven guitars which drive the title track of “Just Business” follow up immediately thereafter, but it’s the inverted cliché which functions as the title for “I Love You (I Think)” which really threatens to tip a few sacred cows and blow listeners’ minds wide open.
“So what’s the big deal about “I Love You (I Think)”,” you ask, reader? The title alone is where the story starts; there, Bass Drum of Death takes the cliche that every rock band – regardless of sub-genre (be it punk or pop or metal or whatever) – and turns it from a declaration into a perfect portrait of uncertainty. In this context, it suddenly leaps miles away from The Partridge Family (you know, “I think I love you, so what am I so afraid of?”) and it turns into a question that almost feels insulting. Couple that with a slippery, sleezy rhythm guitar part, an arid and decidedly “desert rock” lead figure, sludgy drums and a melody which sounds perfectly disappointed, and you suddenly have a flawless anti-love song the likes of which have never been heard in rock. This one song alone has all the foundations on which an entire school could be built but, sandwiched as it is between two much more uptempo tracks as it is (“Just Business” on one side, and the pretty T. Rex-sounding “I Thought I Told You” on the other), it’s also the track that it feels as though the band wants listeners to look for it; it almost feels like a brilliant little Easter egg.
Before the B-side of the album runs out and the needle is allowed to lift, Bass Drum of Death leaves one more hard-edged diamond for listeners in the form of “Leaving” to close out both the side and the running for the album. Simply said, “Leaving” plays about like a “how-to” for a punk rock anthem, but it still sparkles because the fury which radiates from it is perfectly virulent. Here, the lean and nasal-sounding bass in the song sounds like it was lifted right out of Mike Watt’s quiver, while the guitar features a bit of reverb which makes it sound a bit dissonant and (for reasons which feel a little unclear) there’s a desperation in John Barrett’s vocal performance which seems to clip in just the right way. That vocal is hard but harrowing and, because it’s the last thing listeners hear from Bass Drum of Death before the side ends and the needle lifts, it’s haunting too.
That haunting quality on which “Leaving” ends is what will get those who have run front-to-back with “Just Business” to play the album over and over, again and again. Each time, listeners will find they fall into the running DEEPLY with Bass Drum of Death because there is no weak point anywhere to be found in this running; there is no flaw in the armor, it’s perfectly seamless. NOBODY makes albums like this anymore – but that it has appeared here and now on its own is just phenomenal.
(Century Media/RED Music)