Mclusky: The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire

[15 July 2004]

By Todd Goldstein

Mclusky will eat you for breakfast. They will stomp on your ugly face and make fun of your stupid band. They will aim their amplifiers at your ears and blow your brains out with a fuzztone squonk. They will spew witticisms like spitballs all over your still-twitching frame. And the best part is you will love every minute of it. Mclusky’s music is a sublimely masochistic listening experience, a deafening barrage of spazzy post-punk and blindingly articulate hardcore; lead singer Andrew Falkous spits like Frank Black on a diet coke binge, so angry and funny and fricking hostile towards his audience that it makes you wonder why one would ever listen to Mclusky in the first place—but then you remember: Mclusky rocks smarter, harder, and more efficiently than just about any other band out there, and they’re not afraid to let you know in the most abrasive way possible. And that’s a good thing.

The Welsh trio’s definitive statement, the Steve Albini-produced Mclusky Do Dallas (2002), kicked parts of your ass you didn’t know you had. Mixing a Pixies-like dynamic sense with a puckish attitude and frenzied, painfully funny lyrics (rock bands getting boob jobs, b-boy-style braggadocio re: how awesome Mclusky is, and the brilliant “your mother is a ball point pen thief”), the band established their boundless energy and ever-present shoulder chip as the new gold standard for edgy indie rock. Falkous and Co.‘s new album, the excellently titled The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, showcases a slightly more “mature” group (if such a thing is possible), exploring the outer reaches of their stylistic potential. A varied and engaging record, The Difference… still lacks the immediacy of Dallas, though the group continues to exude the same appealingly unhinged qualities that made their previous album so damnedably riveting. That said, Mclusky’s new album will melt your face.

The differences between The Difference… and Mclusky Do Dallas manifest mostly in Steve Albini’s production, coupled with a growing dark cloud on the band’s stylistic horizon. While the production style is far from murky, The Difference… lacks its predecessor’s oomph, that right-up-in-your-ears clarity that has defined Albini’s best work. Mclusky Do Dallas punched you in the gut and spit in your eye; The Difference… takes that energy and puts a cap on it, as if you’ve already been pummeled and now the band is jeering at you from afar. From the moment “Without MSG I Am Nothing” buzzes out the album’s opening riff, it becomes clear that the fun is far from over, though its purpose has shifted. The once-giddy Mclusky has added menace to the mix, and the song’s “Everywhere I look / Is a darkness” refrain, offset by creepy catcalls, sets the album’s subsequent tone.

That, sludgy, distanced feel carries over into the songs themselves, which retain the previous album’s unhinged attack, but tone down the screwball humor. Mclusky’s songs have always been hectic, jarring affairs, pop through a punk kaleidoscope, but on The Difference… they take on a more ominous tone reminiscent of the Fall or the oft-mentioned Jesus Lizard. As much as the members would probably hate to admit it, Mclusky is at its core a pop rock band, and, just as “Without MSG I Am Nothing” juxtaposes the joyous and the moribund with its silly whooping and morose chorus, so does the album as a whole temper its pop lightness with an insistent darkness. “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” is the sweeter side of Mclusky, with its aching (I hesitate to invoke “emo”) opening lines, “Note to self / Be erect by half past ten / Be strong / Be proud / Be charmed,” and sunshower-jangle guitars. However, the band undercuts that moment of tenderness by following it with “KKKitchens, What Were You Thinking?”, a buzzsaw attack of distorted vocals and razorblade riffage. Mclusky loves to play, in every sense of the word, and that element of surprise and ironic juxtaposition typifies their musical mission.

Unfortunately, though all the elements of Mclusky’s musical arsenal are present in The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, making the album an overall enjoyable experience, the latter half still suffers from some stylistic overreaching, as lengthier songs bog down the frantic pace and Albini’s production compresses the band’s machine-gun tightness into a smaller space than may be necessary. Shortcomings notwithstanding, Mclusky’s new album is a formidable companion to its kickass predecessor, brimming with tingling musical ideas and exuberant lyrical wit (wouldn’t we all like the opportunity to scream, “Everywhere I go / I want to travel by X-wing!”? I sure would.), all delivered with a perennial shit-eating grin. Though the mix of humor and aggression has been slightly recalibrated for Mclusky’s new album, it still hits in all the right places, and kicks in all the right faces.

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