Anyone who remembers the growled vocals, gunshots, punishing beats, and chalk white figure-laden video of The Young Gods’ Wax Trax debut “Envoyé” remembers a time when the Young Gods could scare the shit out of you. These guys taught Ministry a lesson about being badass with a sampler, they taught The Edge how to make enough noise with a guitar to drown out Bono for a while, and they taught Mike Patton… well, they probably taught him something, because now they’re on his label, the ever-interesting Ipecac Records.
Franz Treichler and company’s latest release is called Super Ready / Fragmenté, but it’s not the title of the album that seems to have garnered most of the attention; rather, it’s the cover. Basically, it’s a gun. At least, it’s an artistically presented gun, made out of stars or tin foil or rhinestone or something, and it looks neat. Treichler will tell you it’s a statement of some sort, an angry reflection of the violent nature of modern culture and political leaders’ willingness to take advantage of that (or some similar nonsense), but let’s be realistic — the gun’s there because it looks neat.
And yes, it’s a metaphor for the album it so perfectly adorns.
Super Ready / Fragmenté sounds neat, in just about every sense of the word. For one, it’s immaculately produced and mixed by the guy who’s been behind the boards for the band from the beginning, Roli Mosimann. Rather than the fuzz, noise, or ambience of earlier works, this particular album revels in direct hits, shunning ambiguity for the straight-ahead force of a band leaving nothing to question. It also has a vague air of cool about it, its electronics mixing seamlessly with its guitars and its drums, and Treichler is always there, crooning urgently over the top of it. It sounds angry and aggressive at some points, sparse and brooding at others, but it manages to make all those bad vibes sound awfully appealing.
Still, there’s a sort of encroaching disappointment that enters the room when you’re listening to a band that used to collect labels like “ground-breaking” and “influential” and “unpredictable” re-till the ground it so neatly broke years before now. “I’m the Drug” and “Freeze”, the two tracks that kick off the album, are both loud, noisy, and even kind of catchy in a yelling-along-in-your-car sort of way, but they’re the type of stuff that the band was doing 20 years ago (and more convincingly, I might add). “C’est Quoi C’est Ça” is a fun way to spend four minutes, but the style of electronics that it shows off was done almost verbatim, ten years ago, by U2 (on Pop‘s unfairly overlooked “Do You Feel Loved?”). More ambient material fares just as poorly in the originality department, as transitional tracks like “Machine Arrière” and final track “Un Point C’est Tout” (which spends much of its time annoyingly simulating the sound of a skipping CD) float along pointlessly as Treichler just keeps ranting over the top of them.
While we’re on the topic, there is the matter of Treichler himself. Undoubtedly, his voice is a more versatile instrument than it once was. Rather than growling his words out, Treichler has kind of taken on the qualities of a subdued Ian Astbury, anthemic in its intent but never quite finding the need to scream. Unfortunately, it’s a quality that starts to grate after six or seven tracks, something that’s especially problematic in that the most ambient material — that is, the songs on which Treichler’s voice sticks out the most — are toward the end of the album. Every once in a while, you just want the guy to shut up and let the music do the talking…
…which he does for a long stretch of the title track, whose combination of the aggression of the earlier more straightforward tunes with the ambience (and length) of some of The Young Gods’ recent forays into mood music, makes it the most forward-thinking thing on the album, and in turn the most successful. The repetition of it is hypnotic, and every one of its nine minutes sounds urgent and purposeful, something you can’t necessarily say about much else on the album.
Maybe the point of Super Ready / Fragmenté never was to forge forward, to define new musical territory. Maybe the point of it was simply a matter of established musicians wanting to play some music and spout off on whatever was bothering them on any given day. Assuming that’s the case, the album isn’t bad, and is actually quite listenable. Still, even as such, it’s far from perfect, and really, there are some bands that have inspired the expectation of a little bit more than “listenable”. The Young Gods are one such band; for them, it seems, Super Ready / Fragmenté is just an album.