[21 November 2007]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
It is high time that Working for a Nuclear Free City received a proper release in the States. It has been over a year since their wonderful self-titled debut came out in Europe, and their big, orchestrated kitchen sink of sounds has been getting a lot of press ever since. Thankfully, Deaf, Dumb + Blind stepped up to the plate and decided to release the band’s first album along with their follow-up EP Rocket as part of a double-disc package that they capped off with a slew of unreleased tracks.
While the band hardly needs such an expansive introduction to an American audience, the generosity of the release seems kind enough, at first. It becomes apparent pretty quickly when you put the disc in that the sequencing has been mixed up for Businessmen & Ghosts. Instead of putting the debut album on the first disc, and then Rocket and the new material on the second, Businessmen & Ghosts finds all these tracks jumbled together in a seemingly random order. In doing this, the release makes the band sound far more aimless and unwieldy than they actually are.
The beauty of Working for a Nuclear Free City was its ability to visit a myriad of sounds while still remaining cohesive and controlled. Giant, textured dance numbers like “Troubled Son” butted up against the glam-and-gloom synthesizers of “Dead Fingers Talking”. The Krautrock of “Forever” opposes the dream-pop of “Fallout”. It is an album full of big orchestration that manifests itself in a series of disparate but beautifully lush parts. And the Rocket EP serves as a nice follow-up, as it takes all the elements of the full-length and tones them down into a quieter, more subtly textured record. The acoustic guitar-driven title track is a thick-layered bit of hazy pop, with less sonic flourishes than most of their work, that still rests the song on a sturdy and driving bass line.
Unfortunately, the two releases are meshed together and mixed in with other tracks that don’t stand up nearly as well. The vignette pieces that served as sinew on the band’s full-length—tracks like “The Tree” and “The Tape”—are cast-off onto the second disc and left to stand on their own, which they were never meant to do. And they are surround by big, loose new songs like “Donkey” and “Soft Touch”. And while those songs, like a lot of the new stuff here, sound big and have their moments, they don’t have the touch of restraint that the material from Working for a Nuclear Free City had. They also lack the gentle touch of Rocket. And by conflating these new, lesser tracks with the material from their albums, Businessmen & Ghosts comes across as a document that poorly represents the band. It makes them seem typical and overdone, like a band in need of an editor. In truth, Working for a Nuclear Free City is a band worth listening to, and worth watching out for. Their two releases in Europe are both beautiful, cohesive, and unique pieces of music. But unfortunately, Businessmen & Ghosts does not let the band’s best stuff shine. And sure, the price is right on this two-disc set, and you’re sure to get your money’s worth in quantity. But, as far as quality goes, you might be better off dropping the couple extra bucks to score an import copy of Working for a Nuclear Free City.