Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that a plausible mission for artists everywhere was to make life even the tiniest bit more enjoyable for those who encounter it. When people would ask him who had accomplished this, he would reply, “The Beatles did”.
But this is only one way of looking at things. Kafka wrote that all great art should make the reader want to vomit. Adorno held that the only worthwhile art was subversive and difficult—to “enjoy” art was to be a philistine.
If Adorno was right, than the Lies must be the Beatles. Resigned is positively unlistenable. To submit yourself to this record is to submit to 40 minutes of sludge and grime, claustrophobia and gloom, distortion and melancholia. If you haven’t thrown yourself out the window by the fifth song, consider yourself lucky.
The Lies are what Brian Eno might sound like after heroin addiction and a lobotomy. Sparse drums and synths thump along the empty soundscapes as vocalist Dale Shaw’s turgid, lazy, melancholic odes to depression and idleness trudge through the mud, barely escaping from the vacuum of despair before consuming themselves on their own oblivious solipsism.
Shaw’s vocals are overpowering in their deadpan despair. In his heavy, Pet Shop Boys-esque snarl, he weaves tales of broken friendships and world-weary pessimism. On “Rogue and Weary”, he sings deep and sarcastic, angry and hateful, “It’s easy to run and it’s easy to lie . . . killing the truth is a habit to you”. Resigned is an angry suicide note, a litany of insults and degradations from the bottom of a deep, deep well. The vituperation and emptiness bristle with every barked attack, every ominous drum pounding, every swarm of deadening distortion.
The Lies are fine if your idea of a fun Saturday night is banging your head against the bathroom floor. For those of us not quite as perverse and self-destructive as that, records like Resigned are nothing less than impenetrable mysteries of hatred and sorrow. What is gained from creating such disgustingness? What can the listener take away? What pride can the artist feel in unleashing this on the world?
I may be a raving Romanticist but I cling to the idea that the purpose of art must be to uplift, not to degrade. In this world, anguish and despair are easy to come by. I don’t need to search for it in records. What I do need to find in records is a little stupid optimism and gentle hope. Or, in Kurt Vonnegut’s terms, I need to feel a little bit better about being alive. Not surprisingly, I’d rather listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run ad infinitum than ever again touch Resigned, even with a 10-foot pole. If anything, the Lies force you to look into the void and realize that there is in fact nothing there but your own hate and pain. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t ever need to feel that way, especially when listening to rock and roll.