Living Things: Habeas Corpus

[18 March 2009]

By Stephen Haag

It used to be the Living Things—brothers Lillian, Eve and Bosh Berlin, with Cory Becker—knew we were all going to hell in a handbasket. At least made the band made it an enjoyable ride. Witness 2005’s Ahead of the Lions, a slab of Steve Albini-produced rock that wore its politics on its sleeve (see the best song Iggy Pop never wrote, “I Owe”) but still never forgot the joys of Stooges/Danko Jones/etc hard boogie. After a four-year hiatus, the Living Things return, and hey, they totally want you to know that they know while they were gone our country was nearly run into the ground by a reckless, land-raping oilman and his cadre of nefarious schemers intent on dismantling the Constitution and widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Damned if Habeas Corpus proves these guys spent Bush’s second term reading the Huffington Post and forgot to write any memorable songs.

One glance at the track titles give a pretty fair idea of what Habeas Corpus has to offer: “Mercedes Marxist”,  “Snake Oil Man” (where someone—wink, wink—is “going out softly with his blood on our hands”), “Post-Millennium Extinction Blues” and “The Kingdom Will Fall” (in which Lillian opines: “The Constitution has gone AWOL.”). The problem: One glance out the window or at newspaper headline reminds our Ess is seriously Effed. Who needs a 40-minute boneheaded rock ‘n’ roll lecture in 21st-century American politics upon firing up one’s MP3 player?

While a glimmer of the Berlins’ earlier swagger exists here and there on Habeas Corpus—namely the largely apolitical call-to-arms opener “Brass Knuckles” and the strutting, stuttering “Cost of Living”, which rocks nicely but nearly gets sunk by groaners like, “Money is as dirty as Wall Street’s floor.” The bulk of the record becomes overrun with by-the-numbers alt-rock, as more than a few outlets accurately peg “Oxygen” as a third-tier Killers impression, which really says something, and “Let It Rain” mirrors the same mid-tempo nonsense that used to infuriate Jet’s three hard-rock fans. Then the two out-of-left-field countrified-up twangers, “Island In Your Heart” and “Shake Your Shimmy”, could compare to Izzy Stradlin’s palette cleansers on Use Your Illusion I, though the latter track blows a song title that belongs in the Living Things’ wheelhouse.

Although Ahead of the Lions has somewhat a political bent (the anti-police rant “On All Fours” and the more-general disaffection of “I Owe” and “Bombs Below”), the band’s move to the deep end of the pool clearly categorizes as cover-your-eyes-and-ears embarrassing. Nobody wants a reminder of the indignities of the past half-decade, especially one delivered in such a ham-handed way. Regardless of your politics, Habeas Corpus is a drag. But hey, at least this review lacks a “suspend Habeas Corpus” joke. Oops.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/71329-living-things-habeas-corpus/