It is now several weeks since we recorded episode two, and it has come to me to write up a review of Junkyard; an album that has become the ‘1001 ATD’ standard for the absolute worst an album can be. One which we considered so incomprehensibly awful that anyone who expressed any preference for it was either an idiot, or lying.
This has created two (yes TWO) existential crises that are slowly creeping through my soul.
- Existential Crisis One: Simon, Danny and I are expending all this time and effort reviewing a book, which by our previously stated logic, and its inclusion of Junkyard, must be either a stupid book or was written by a liar.
- Existential Crisis Two: After listening back again in preparation for this article, I realised that I kinda like it. In fact, I quite like it.
ARGHHHHHHHHHHH!!! What am I doing with my life!? What have I become!?
Before you judge me, allow me a moment to explain.
In preparation for an episode I aim to give each album at 5 – 10 listens through, and I do so in a variety of environments: for example while working, out for a walk, and sitting in a quiet room with headphones on.
This takes up around 75% of all my music listening for that week – so my entire world focusses down onto the three albums, and to some extent they become the context in which the other albums are evaluated.
In episode two we reviewed Bob Marley & The Wailers’ “Natty Dread”, a stripped back reggae classic focussed on the oneness of all humanity, love and the pursuit of equality; and Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” was a fun and catchy punk inspired pop record with warmth and heart. And then there’s Junkyard: a dirty sounding art/psych/blues/punk fusion with songs of death, war, murder, abuse and blasphemy. It’s offensive. It’s awful. And we hated it. Rightly so.
After considering this conflict, I decided to change the context of my listening to soften up my sensibilities ahead of my re-review, so I spent a day punishing myself with some of the most abrasive music I can tolerate (and some I almost can’t). For my morning walk into work I endured Agrophobic Nosebleed’s “Frozen Corpse Stuffed Full Of Dope”, an offensive overdriven machine gun assault of sandpaper to the brain. Oh my days.
For my day time listening I alternated through Nails’ “Unsilent Death” and Converge’s unquestionable masterpiece “Jane Doe”. Both brutal attacks on the senses but built with a range and pacing that perfectly balances the aggression to…. Wait, I’m not here to review these albums.
Suitably pummelled, I put on Junkyard and was surprised to find that I didn’t hate it! The first burst of atonal vocals in ‘Blast Off’ combined with the sparse bass-driven melody created a surprisingly coherent and pleasing atmosphere of aggression and potential energy. This was followed by the Pixies-esque ‘She’s Hit’: a slow burner that develops atmosphere of discomfort and regret.
Junkyard really opens up on ‘Dead Joe’. The bass rumbles along, pushing the song forward like a stampede of buffalo charging through a ravine, but this time the guitars are hot on their heels, snapping at their feet like hyenas, meanwhile Nick Cave’s vocals stand on top of the cliff like a lion looking down on the chaos as he prepares to tell Simba that he’s responsible for his fathers’ death. (Yes, this became a Lion King analogy here, and no I don’t know why either).
“Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)” pushes further out to sea, while the aggression and unpredictability of the vocals generate both a visceral imagery and an emotional landscape that complement each other.
I’m not sure where you can say the album peaks, but Big Jesus the title track seems to be a point at which everything comes together. The chaos, the unpredictability, the instruments build up and then go nowhere. This isn’t ‘good’ music, it isn’t enjoyable or pleasing, but it’s also not boring.
So what is this album? It’s engaging in the way that watching the council dig up the street outside your house is, or seeing an online video of an eagle catching a rabbit… I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, and I don’t know what the outcome is gonna be, I’m not sure who’s gonna benefit from it, or even if anyone will – maybe everyone and everything will be worse at the conclusion; I don’t know, but I’m interested in whatever is going on and I want to know how it works out.
Rating: 4/5 (not a typo)