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54 40 Or Fight
have no beef with the avant-garde. I don’t mind sudden shifts in tone, tempo, style, melody, or rhythm, even if they are jarring. I’ve never had a grudge against gibberish. I don’t require a record’s meaning (if it has one) to be obvious or even knowable to the outside observer.
But there’s a difference from all that, especially considering each attribute I have just listed can be used for good as well as ill, and tolerating a crap 27-minute album that indulgences in all the aforementioned tendencies at too great a length.
The pointless wank of most of the instrumental sections of Physical Angel are only matched by the complete meaninglessness of much of the spastic gibbering that composes the vocals. Those rare cases where actual words are spoken are better, but not by much.
Physical Angel also has the curious distinction of being the first album I have ever heard to have a track listed on the back that does not actually exist. It’s not a hidden track, the last track index does not contain two songs (indeed, it barely contains one, a pointless lobotomized Shellac instrumental jam ending in a cod-significant church organ). And the missing song even had the best title of the record: ‘Wolf Wolf Wolf Wolf Attack’.
There is one good song here. It’s called ‘Arty Movie’, and it is just as aggressively weird and out there as the rest of the album, but the odd drum machine, synths and treated-voice piece actually has hooks and lyrics (even if the vocal hooks are “I get too nervous at night” and “I see no difference between your hand and your mouth”). I’m not saying I need hooks or lyrics to like a song, but on a record where the rest of it is so dull, in spite of being hyperactive and quite determinedly odd. As I said, I don’t require an album’s point to be obvious to me, or even accessible to me, but I do require it to have one. This is just random time changes, rough jams lasting for random durations, a complete lack of coherence. In the right hands those elements could make for a compelling, thrilling ride, but here they just provoke yawns.
Actually, I should revise the first sentence of this review. I have no beef with the avant-garde, but I do for the “avant-garde” that pointlessly, almost randomly, mixes things up for seemingly no other purpose than to be “artistic”. I’d rather listen to something that is, in some way, entertaining.