What's Wrong With Guitar Solos?
The Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman, despite his band’s longevity and his consistent evolvement with the indie-rock scene, is something of an odd man out. The Bevis Frond is a long-live band that has created countless albums for two decades or so, a band unafraid to mix genres and explore esoteric avenues without ever succumbing to the demands of the pop culture marketplace. Still, there’s a classic rock tilt to the Bevis Frond’s guitar solo heavy output that puts off otherwise compelled listeners. Even Pitchfork‘s Marc Hogan, who gives a very favorable review of the new reissue of Bevis Frond’s “lost” (at least in America) album London Stone alludes to this bias in his comments on the track “A Most Singular Hole”: “Don’t ask me to explain why ‘A Most Singular Hole’ is better than a well-shroomed jam band with the right pedals; it’s not.” At some point the Bevis Frond dabble in just a little too much prog rock, a little too much hippie-ness, a little too much of what could be considered “uncool” to really allow the band to reach the general indie-rock consciousness.
That is why the reissue of London Stone, Saloman’s follow-up to the critically respected New River Head which never found a distributor here in the States, couldn’t have come at a better time. The appeal of the cool has gradually faded, and the general pop music fan is growing sick of trying to be the first to discover a new M.I.A. or a new Arcade Fire, maybe what we all need is some music that has the force and drive of classic rock. Classic rock after all, isn’t just Foreigner and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, it’s also the Neil Young’s delirious sludge rock, Badfinger’s anthemic choruses, and the Allman Brothers Band’s expansive yet rootsy psychedelia, all of which can be found on London Stone.
I’ll stop ranting now because I fear of creating a straw man that doesn’t exist. After all, no matter how punk rock one’s tastes, there’s no argument with the pure thrill ride of “Coming Round”, a seven-minute epic that could be Bevis Frond’s ultimate statement, sort of a grungy cousin to Sonic Youth’s “Teenage Riot”. “Coming Round” is a catchy pop song transformed into an epic courtesy of a series of vicious and compelling guitar solos. There isn’t a single wasted note on “Coming Round”, it is a tightly wound pop song that just happens to include a few solos and last around seven minutes. On paper it’s a prog-rock mess, but when you hear it through the speakers, it’s about as self-indulgent as a two minute Ramones song.
The best songs on the album all follow the same guide, there is nothing separating the songs themselves and the instrumental breaks, they are interconnected to a point where they couldn’t exist without each other. The menacing “Still Trying”, the spacey but grinding “A Most Singular Hole”, the wistful “And Now She’s Gone” are all perfectly balanced mixture of song and soloing. Only “Well Out of It” falls under the common improviser’s trap of producing a song that is clearly just a rough sketch that is to be expanded onstage. Saloman also avoids getting in the “jam song or nothing” mentality, so he is able to branch out into other directions, making sure the album doesn’t devolve into mere riffing. “Freedom Falling” is a jangling short pop tune, and “Lord of Nothing” is a pleasant acoustic idyll that helps to buffer the one-two punch of the distortion-filled “London Stone” and the loud and swirling blast that is “And Now She’s Gone”.
For those who already have the album, there are considerable bonus tracks (about a half-hour’s worth, in fact). None of these are really great songs, and some of them, in fact, go right along with Hogan’s assessment that when Saloman is off, his work can be a little dull in a “jam band with the right pedals” sort of way. For a serious fan, however, the affecting and honest “Another Song about Dying” may hold some interest, as well as a punk rock tempo take on “And Now She’s Gone”. Still, this reissue is designed to appeal to those American fans that never got to hear London Stone in the first place. And it’s pretty damn good, even if it is full of those dreaded guitar solos.