It’s no wonder, really, that Mclusky disintegrated when it did. As the Sex Pistols showed nearly 30 years ago, something that truly burns bright and hot is destined to quickly extinguish. Mclusky actually managed to last a solid eight years, surviving a name change, a drummer change, and some of the most adrenalized performances and recording sessions that a little three-piece band can go through without killing each other or their audience. Not only that, but they were clever about it, and just boorish enough to be charmingly edgy. The only thing they didn’t have that would have catapulted them into the commercial stratosphere was the polished sheen that only a major label can bring (see: Nirvana, Nevermind), but chances are, they couldn’t have cared less about all that.
So alas, Mclusky is dead, and as such, they hath bestowed upon us a parting shot, and it is named Mcluskyism. And it is good.
Mcluskyism comes in two flavors: the highly caffeinated three-disc version with all of the sugar, additives, and a touch of ginseng (in the form, of course, of an all-too-short greatest hits disc and over two hours of B-sides, lost tracks, and live versions spread over two discs—yes, that’s a total of three CDs), and the non-fattening diet version with just the greatest hits disc.
The “greatest hits” disc is simply a compilation of every single Mclusky released over the course of their career. The good news is that, generally, Mclusky’s singles were their best and most beloved songs, so the disc actually functions fairly well as a “greatest hits”—even if I wish, say, “The World Loves Us and Is Our Bitch” were included, it’s hard to argue with what did make it. When not thrashing around recklessly to Mclusky’s screamy, vaguely grungey sound, it’s interesting to note the incredibly pronounced development of the band. Two singles whose total running time doesn’t even break two and a half minutes comprise the entire contribution of Mclusky’s debut My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful than Yours, yet the all-too-short run time perfectly encapsulates a time when Mclusky’s “songs” were more like tantrums, repeated, screamed, driven into the ground, and summarily executed.
It was on 2002’s Mclusky Do Dallas that the band gained its footing, learned to write songs, and figured out the precise balance between pure, unadulterated noise and melody that allows them to be simultaneously badass and catchy, all while sounding like they were having a blast being the most lovable bunch of pricks in indie rock. “To Hell with Good Intentions” could be the greatest moment of Mclusky’s recorded career, reconciling the humor often relegated to their song titles with a more restrained vocal and a delightfully cacophonous repeated guitar line. And who can forget lines like “When we gonna torch the restaurant, sing it!” and “My love is bigger than your love, we take more drugs than a touring funk band, sing it!”, even if the latter is more a Bill Hicks lyric than an Andy Falkous lyric. The singles from The Difference Between You and Me is that I’m Not on Fire display that album’s move into darker, more sinister territory—the formula for success remained the same, but a song like “Without MSG I am Nothing” is more frightening than comically aggressive.
Strong as it was, The Difference… was just the sort of album a brilliant band puts out when its members are about to either kill each other or break up. Mercifully, they didn’t kill each other. That the change in attitude from My Sadness… to The Difference… is played out on Mcluskyism in under a half hour simply accentuates the speed at which the evolution and incineration of the band took place.
The completists who buy the three-CD edition won’t be treated to any additional revelations about the band and its short recorded life, but they will get a glimpse of just how prolific Mclusky managed to be while it was around. The recorded B-sides don’t offer any revelations, really, unless you count the demo of “Exciting Whistle-Ah”, which gives us an idea of just how raw Mclusky’s recorded work is by showing us that a demo can sound almost identical, production-wise, to an album track. Just what did Steve Albini do in that studio, anyway? “Balbos Theme”, an old B-side for “Joy”, shows the rarely-seen tender side of the band, distortion-free even, and things like “Rope!” show that, yes, the patented Mclusky tantrum could get even more tuneless than the early singles indicated.
The true draw of discs two and three, however, lies in the live set at the University of London Union that takes up the last nine tracks of disc three, particularly the fantastic banter between Andy Falkous and a belligerent member of the audience who has occasion to ask (shout, actually) the following burning question: “Why does your drummer play like a pussy?” Falkous proceeds to spend the next two minutes laying into this guy, his most inspired moment musing wistfully about putting the heckler in a locked room with Ron Atkinson and a grenade. After a few more jibes at the man’s expense (and a few added shots from bassist Jon Chapple), the band launches into “You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus”, the diatribe now as much a part of the show as the songs Mclusky chose to play. Sure, it’s a display of power and caustic venom from the lead vocalist of a band about to split, but more importantly, it shows us that Mclusky was just as clever and constantly angry as its recordings would indicate.
That moment is perhaps the most important part of a set that defines Mclusky as well as any compilation likely could. Mcluskyism‘s three disc incarnation will be essential for completists, its single-disc version perfect for newcomers, but what both versions make clear is that the members of Mclusky might not have been virtuosos when it came to technical proficiency, but they were positively prodigal when it came to attitude.
// Notes from the Road
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