[29 April 2014]
Those expecting a retread of the late-night misery and sad Spectorian pop found on Pink Mountaintops’ 2009 release Outside Love will be sorely disappointed with Steve McBean’s follow-up, Get Back. Anyone familiar with McBean’s main band Black Mountain or any of the bands of those assembled (a shortlist including Dinosaur Jr., Giant Sand, Sunn O))), Cass McCombs, and Brian Jonestown Massacre) however, will know right away that Get Back is a different animal entirely. Playing like a primer in the last 40-odd years of left-of-center rock, Get Back wears its influences loudly and proudly on its tattered sleeves, relying heavily on feedback, guitar solos and roiling rhythms that lend the album an unrelenting sense of forward momentum that betrays its sonic tendency toward backwards glances.
From its slow-build, feedback-saturated opening moments, Get Back lets the listener know the title is an adamant mission statement, that unlike previous releases this will see things amped up more than a few notches in both volume and overall intensity, all while fully embracing its idols and going entirely for broke in the process. Gone are the lysergic tempos and minimalist percussion present on Outside Love, replaced by propulsive drums, droning bass and heavily distorted guitar. Make no mistake, dear listener, this is a full-fledged rock album of the highest order, alternately channeling the unlikely likes of Iggy Pop, Morrissey and any number of Flying Nun artists.
With opening track “Ambulance City”, McBean and company throw down the gauntlet, going full-bore into straight-up rock territory, shredding the delicate vocal chords displayed on Outside Love well within the album’s first ninety seconds, wrapping them in a ravaged shroud of cavernous drums, grit-laden guitar and pulsing bass.
Employing a slightest hint of Anglophile vocal affectation, McBean tears through “The Second Summer Of Love” sounding more than a bit like The Clash despite a lyrical reference post-dating that group’s demise. It’s a strange juxtaposition coming nearly fifty years removed from the first titular summer and over a quarter century after the second that somehow still manages to fit more or less flawlessly and keep the moment of the album’s opening moments on track.
“Through All The Worry”, one of the many highlights on Get Back, is perfect hook-laden pop akin to Teenage Fanclub circa-Bandwagonesque, with guest guitarist J. Mascis playing a very J. Mascis guitar solo. “Wheels”, in turn, apes Morrissey and the Smiths (think “Big Mouth Strikes Again” or “Shakespeare’s Sister”) with elongated syllables and maudlin, minor key musings atop a churning miasma of rolling drums and frantic acoustic guitar. Sure it’s all more or less derivative, but consider the source material from which it is derived and you have your answer as to whether or not it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Eschewing the ‘80s and ‘90s, the remainder of Get Back falls squarely into Lust For Life-era Iggy Pop territory with dashes of Berlin Bowie thrown in for good measure, creating a rollicking, rocking set of songs that feels very much the result of in-the-moment playing amongst like-minded musicians rather than pre-meditated compositions hammered out by McBean alone. “Sell Your Soul” finds McBean doing a near spot-on Iggy-circa-Lust For Life, mewling his way through a web of chaotic, feedback-drenched guitar work and barroom piano, all underpinned by a simple four-on-the-floor beat and intermittent sax work.
The lone misstep on Get Back is “North Hollywood Microwaves”. Featuring Giant Sand’s Annie Hardy going off on an extended sleaze rap regarding her affinity for cum, “North Hollywood Microwaves” fits in seamlessly musically and, had it cut itself short of Hardy’s moment in the spotlight, would have been just fine. Unfortunately she’s given free reign and, sounding a bit like Kimya Dawson at times, it simply unnecessarily drags down an otherwise stellar album and at over five minutes well overstays its welcome.
Thankfully, no time is wasted getting back into things and the last four tracks on the second side return to the quality level put forth on side one, espousing the glories of teenage kicks and rock ‘n’ roll and other tried and true lyrical platitudes, all augmented with an appropriate sax line here and there. “Sixteen” and “New Teenage Mutation” are borderline glam perfection, while “Shakedown” returns to effortlessly melodic, noisy Flying Nun territory, creating a perfect pop partner to the aforementioned “Through All The Worry”.
Album closer “The Last Dance” fully embraces its inner Aladdin Sane-era Bowie, replete with clattering pianos, stop-start rhythms and chunky guitars, all while McBean vocals struts back and forth across the track itself. At nearly eight minutes in length and featuring a triumphant major key shift during the elongated instrumental outro, it’s a throwback to a time of glorious excess that perfectly encapsulates the album’s overall revisionist aesthetic. It’s one thing to ape your idols. It’s another entirely be able to position yourself firmly in their presence.