Music

Brand New: The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

Andrew Blackie

Brand New's third album is not a disc you want to check out if you’re looking for an overview of their first two: it's an innovation of the grandest kind.


Brand New

The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

Label: Tiny Evil
US Release Date: 2006-11-21
UK Release Date: 2006-11-20
Amazon
iTunes

It's incredible listening to Brand New's The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, how soothing, how bitter, how generally atmospheric it is. Then a realization even more amazing occurs to you -- this is only their third album.

Close your eyes, listen to this, and you'd imagine a group of maestros who'd been polishing their music for many a year. Quite frankly, the world wasn't, nor is it, ready for a work the scope of this from a band of Brand New's mettle. After a fairly obscure debut in 2001' Your Favorite Weapon, their minor indie crossover hit "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows", from a long three years back, tackled suicide in its lyrics -- the first indication that the band had courage -- but it was the sort of song, soppy and mopey, whose meaning and value disintegrated after the first few listens. This pretty much paved the way to their sophomore release, Deja Entendu -- a middling 'emo' compilation, the title intended to be a snide comment that all modern music is sounding similar, but with the ridiculous unrelated track names and glum, run-of-the-mill lyrics it applied more to themselves. After the take-off of said single, they all but faded back to the scene they came from, further confirming, it seemed, that their one-time success was doomed to be quickly forgotten by today's fickle teenagers (and let's face it, they weren't writing much to appeal to the older generation); but now it seems like they were just being smart while they recorded this.

There's something so very natural about The Devil and God. It doesn't sound contrived or forced, it's understated when it needs to be (pay attention: this is an important quality), and it's certainly more mature, putting breakup and self-infliction clichés, thankfully, behind them. You may even forget you're listening to their third outing. The friction to bubbling opener "Sowing Season (Yeah)", works -- passionately -- through a soft-loud mold, though its dynamic is far from as predictable a sound as you'd draw from that description. Vocallist Jesse Lacey outlines it with soul-searching mutters and unrefined back-of-the-throat defiance.

The synthetic drumming and dreamy background to "Jesus Christ", which takes on the form of a part-love song part-letter to the man himself ("I'm not scared to die / I'm a little bit afraid of what comes after", he admits), has more in common with Pink Floydian space rock than the quasi-emo outfits you might have previously linked Brand New with. As if to prove it's not just toying with you, it stips in mid-chorus, pauses for a few seconds, then gets going again. "Millstone" represents that they haven't forgotten what a good melody sounds like, although they're ever unwilling to abandon their introspective songwriting. By making sure the line is firmly drawn between then and now, however, they leave plenty of digestion for open-minded listeners.

"Degausser" and "Not the Sun" are less impressive, mainly because the former features a gospel choir, destroying Lacey's tentative beauty, while the latter's nifty bassline could have been inspired by Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby". However, "Limousine" is the album's distinctive centerfold, at a staggering seven minutes. It builds up from acoustic / vocal accompaniment a la Elliott Smith into dense, bottom-ended noise-rock elite, full of grisly distortions and not-quite-there melodies. This isn't the type of cut that most of their audience will cherish or even understand: but it certainly shows, impressively, that the band are answering the call to progress of their own accord. Another of interest is "Luca", which reprises itself as a bonus track to The Devil and God... in a heartier and clearer version. "Drop me a line with a hook and some raw bleeding bait / I am uncaught and still swimming alone in the lake", Lacey declares.

The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me is an effort from Brand New to put on the shelf with Jimmy Eat World's Futures and Blue October's Foiled -- examples from recent years of emo bands taking an experimental, slightly darker step towards maturity at the possible expense of dismissal by their early fanbase. That mark is visible throughout much of this record; they sound like a completely new band, which is ironic, considering their name.

It's a perfect example of a band outliving the expecations placed upon them, taking action to widen their pallet (after only two LPs, might I add), and in the process, it's also the embodiment of a musical achievement, and makes the knowledge that whatever follows this will (hopefully) be even more positively painful.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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