Friday, 21 March 2008



There used to be a sense of humour attached to Shellac (and indeed a lot of independent alternative rock) that I fear has now long since gone and had its day.

This is a difficult listen, purposely obtuse filled with many tripwires and potholes to disrupt the flow of/for the listener.  In many ways this has always been what Shellac has been about but this time round it just does not feel worth the effort.

Excellent Italian Greyhound was their long awaited fourth studio album coming after a lengthy gap between releases seemingly with view to keeping the object unique and special.  That’s the problem when your reputation passes you and there is no need to keep plates spinning.  An abundance of crockery does not a meal make.

To risk sharing cliché, this album is a grower.  Personally my gut instinct was genuinely the thought that in their career they’ve gone from making “Wingwalker” to making something so deliberately belligerent as this.  Honestly that the results were not immediate offended me.

Rather than open with the brutality of “Prayer To God” or “My Black Ass”, Excellent Italian Greyhound sees a return to the slow build opener with “The End Of Radio” and Bob Weston relentlessly tugging at his bass in autistic fashion.  The tone of the track is of an emergency call.  As Steve Albini regularly calls “is this thing on?” he appears to be referencing many strands of reality.  Easily it could be interpreted as a call to arms, call to action with the slow movement of the music acting as a metaphor for a generation’s lethargy.  Finally at the seven minute mark the machine that is Shellac has fired into action emerging like a tightly spring having been released into the wild.  This is their comedy.

With this the album rears into life with “Steady As She Goes” a motoring more traditional type Shellac song as a spiky pace attaches itself to proceedings and more personal, scathing words are uttered.  Healthily it builds real momentum as a late eruption bursts through.  Its keen if not crushing.

And then the record stutters and becomes belligerent again as the stop start call and response of “Be Prepared” breaks in.  The track is very Action Park (very “Dog And Pony Show”) only just not as good.  At best it’s a test, at worst its cheesy.  That said much like the best Shellac songs the hook does become an earworm.

Maintaining a one off one on song ratio “Elephant” coasts in springing fashion with a nice folding formation.  While Bob sings of lies Albini mumbles spoken verses below.  And with such distraction you fail to notice when the music becomes solely a Todd Trainer drumbeat backing the garbled sounds of two disgruntled indie rock elder statesmen.  This is breaking things down to basics.  An exercise in testing nerves.  Then when it rears back into action it reminds me of Karate.  Suddenly what you are listening is first generation emo.  And we all know what that strand wound up like.

Further infuriating things another nine minute track arrives in the form of “Genuine Lullabelle”.  Never let it be said Shellac are strangers to a slow build.  Reminding of “Mama Gina” from 1000 Hurts it’s a track that grows but doesn’t necessarily mature.  It adds up in a math rock motion but it is hardly “Freebird”, more free jazz in a jazz odyssey direction, not least when Ken Nordine makes an appearance.  This is not the blues.

I guess coherent song structures previously tended to make the band sound like AC/DC so surrendering such things in theory should propel the art of this album but instead it makes it less accessible.  This is akin to your favourite teacher setting an exam that is impossible to complete with a passing mark.

Things get worse as the fantastically entitled “Kittypants” reveals itself as a glancing blow, very Mogwai in being the kind of instrumental filler that every post-rock album always had.  Suddenly Shellac no longer feel like leaders, they feel like followers.

A late rally is exhibited with the dense and meandering “Boycott” which possesses some bite before penultimate track “Paco” proves an awkward and tempered five and a half minute mathematical instrument(al).  This band was never supposed to be Slint.  Put it on a seven-inch.

Tacked onto the end is “Spoke” an old song from early on that they recorded for a Peel Session and previously available nowhere else other than a bootleg seven inch and bad MP3s until now.  In execution it is short and shouty remaining old and amazing having over time become a staple of their sets and fine way to finish a show.  Its inclusion feels more out of request than desire, something reiterated by the cheesy jingle that welcomes the song (a cover of the “Rotosound Strings” advert by The Who).  This version doesn’t pack the punch of the original BBC session but it does at least end the record on an energetic high.  A shot in the arm somewhere was needed.

I hate Excellent Italian Greyhound for the way it makes me feel.  What do you do when your favourite band puts out an average album?

Thesaurus moment: disobliging.

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