Liars: Mr. You’re on Fire Mr.
iars. It's one of those band names—like Blues Traveler or Dashboard Confessional—that tells you just about everything you need to know about where a band is coming from. See the name Liars, and expect the following: meaningless lyrics, willful contrarianism, surreal structures. It's a little surprising that no one in the Beefheart-Zappa continuum ever took the appellation.
Note also the lack of a direct article; they're just another bunch of liars. And of course, being a particularly good bunch of liars, they've made a career exploiting those expectations. The lyrics may sound, at first blush, like nothing in particular, but look closer: the preponderance of "us" and "them" variants in their titles (They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, "We No Longer Knew Who We Were," They Threw Us In a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top—the album this one appears on), and all over Angus Andrew's slur-shouted poesy. Not to mention all the tossed-off references to violence rendered either actively by a self, or passively by some unnamed, unmotivated other (drowning, blood, immolation). There's a thread through just about all Liars songs—a defeated person or group, existing underground, not as a choice, but forced down by powers beyond his or their control, and persecuted. Last year's They Were Wrong... was much more direct on this point, alternating tracks about a coven of witches and the villagers mounting against them.
"Mr. You're On Fire Mr.," from their 2001 debut, ticks around all that for a bit, starting with "Do the twist / Twist for ice cream / Come on, dance! / Misdirection." They told you to expect nonsense. But Angus—who, as is always mentioned, is nine feet tall, Aussie, and dances like a Yeti—continues, in shouted bursts, seconds later: "We are / Trapped, to get violent / Shining teeth, for perfection / The most bright, unassuming." Gotcha. Then, the chorus: "Mister, you're on fire, mister! / No sir, I'm OK!" It's a powerfully funny, and deliriously fun, chorus, not just for its content in a basically-dance-able rock number, but where it shows up, and how. After two stop-start verses to brick up some tension, the chorus comes in, accompanied by an Aaron Hemphill guitar lead that, were it not for the low-end distortion, is more than jaunty enough to slide into "Camptown Races," with no one the wiser, and the rhythm section—Pat Noecker on bass, Ron Alberson on drums—lock into a bouncy disco thrill. But, still you come back to those unavoidable words: "Mister, you're on fire, mister / No, sir, I'm OK." This is as crystal-clear as Liars have ever gotten:
--Sir, you appear to be in terrible pain.And, for my money, this is the real point with Liars, and what makes them one of the most interesting and important young bands around, especially taken from that media-fed bumper-crop of dance-punk (I'm sorry, everyone) revivalists (seriously, I'm really sorry). It's not just a social conscience, per se, but the fact that they're so in tune with the shit-scared, willfully ignorant, 50's-ized mentality of today's America; and not in tune in a way that makes it obvious, or preachy, or didactic, like so much of the politicized rock of now. They've got it wrapped around their core, in it with the rest of us, rather than above it like Bono or Geldof, and it doesn't need to be directly spoken or lifted through the diaphragm from a pulpit. It's there in the tense, knotted rhythms, the saw-blade guitars, and those seemingly-meaningless words.
--No, no, I'm fine.
By: Jeff Siegel
Published on: 2005-07-20