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The Major Lift

by David King on August 30, 2012

I feel confident saying that “The Full Retard” should have been the jam of summer 2012. Brooklyn’s El-P is an MC with indie cred and the kind of politically conscious but expectation-flaunting firebrand who is ready to call the world on its shit but not exactly abide by his own criticism. So, when he drops the bomb that is “The Full Retard,” he does it tongue-in-cheek like a guy who is guilty for having beats so hot and a hook that catchy but, by the end of the song, he is flaunting it, slapping you with it. “So you should pump this shit like they do in the future!” goes the chorus.

The problem with Cancer for Cure is that El-P is never ready to give up on a good thing. He grinds samples until they are more annoyance than complement; he works the chorus till it’s dead; and while the tracks mostly don’t clock in at over four minutes, not all of them offer enough variety. Is it possible to trance out in three minutes?

What is wrong with Bloc Party’s new album? Seriously? It doesn’t take much more than a good dance beat to make the band’s songs work, but Four sounds like the band have no idea why they ever existed.

Maybe it was vocalist Kele Okereke’s long dalliance with his electronic side project or his obsession with meshing techno into Bloc Party’s tunes. Perhaps it is that this once-bright-eyed, romantic, politically conscious, modest Londoner has turned into a lovelorn, shell-shocked cynic, who has seen his bandmates nearly walk away from him. But an honest evaluation of the album reveals that what is really wrong with Four is that Okereke is given nothing to work with.

Opener “He Begins to Lie” has a classic Bloc Party guitar riff: meaty but reminiscent of the Clash and that is all. The drums are plodding, guitar repetitive, and bass hidden behind a big dumb riff. It lasts for only three minutes, so there’s no chance for the spastic guitar freakouts, disco breakdowns or moments of dramatic reflection that generally make a Bloc Party song. The electronics are missing—clearly in an attempt to get back to the band’s roots—but there is no dancing either. Single “Octopus” is a sad imitation of the Silent Alarm’s “Helicopter,” but it too ends in under four minutes.

Everything comes off the rails, though, on “Kettling.” It sounds like something off of one of Bush’s later albums, like a garage band that heard grunge but wanted to make it sexier. There are big Nickelback riffs and Smashing Pumpkins-styled solos and none of it fits together. Again, the brilliant dance drumming of Matt Tong is missing. He is barely there.

“Because they can’t stop this/We can feel it in our bones/The future is ours/Yes it is,” Okereke announces during the chorus. That “yes it is” lingers like Okereke is trying to convince himself. It didn’t convince me. It feels like a couple back together after what should have been the final break-up. No one is into it anymore and no one is trying.

If it weren’t for Ministry, Osama bin Laden’s death might not have been real for me. Seriously. Al Jourgensen got so enraged by the Bush administration that he actually made a few decent albums in the mid-aughts. Apparently, he had more than a little heroin and enough functioning drum machines left to make a couple nearly-classic discs in House of the Mole and Rio Grande Blood —not that anyone was paying attention.

Well, I was and his industrial-metal anti-Bush tirades acted as real comfort food after the 2004 election. But, when Obama was elected, Jourgensen released a bunch of remixes, one final retirement album and packed it in. Until . . . I guess he ran out of drug money or something.

Now we have Relapse, a disc based more on parodying himself and the music industry than any politician. The only successful example of the formula is on opener “Ghoul Diggers,” where a Mike Judge- (of Beavis and Butthead fame) sounding character, who could be Jourgensen, dopily tries to get his agent on the phone. “You never return my calls! What’s up with that?” Jourgensen demands and invokes Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. Eventually, the secretary tells Jourgensen to call back when he is dead. The only real sign that Jourgensen wasn’t dead while recording the disc is “Double Tap.” The cover for the single—two feet tap dancing—might fool you. No, the song isn’t about Gregory Hines. Instead, he references the two shots at close range that ended the 9/11 mastermind’s life in brutal fashion. The riffs are faster than ever, the drumming unrelenting. “Its like playing a video game/High value target needs a bullet in his brain!” Jourgensen brays. Then he unleashes the crazy-man tirade: “Ten fucking years of trying to track this guy around/We always knew Pakistan is where he’d be found/All’s we need’s the go-ahead and he goes down/Double tab to the head then he gets drowned.”

And finally, the dulcet tones of George W. Bush: “That Bin Laden’s gotta go codenamed Geronimo.” Then there is a sad attempt at an Occupy Wall Street ode, but most of the album is filler. Al is still alive. “I’m not dead yet!” he shouts repeatedly on “Ghouldiggers.” I guess the question is: Is a Romney presidency a worthy trade for one more decent Ministry album?