Big Black

The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape (Touch & Go ’87, ‘92) Rating: B+
Also a well-known producer (he has recorded the PixiesSurfer Rosa, PJ Harvey’s Rid Of Me, and Nirvana’s In Utero, among many, many others), Steve Albini has made some pretty innovative stuff as a musician in his own right. Big Black was his first and most influential band; later Albini-led units include the obviously desperate to offend Rapeman and the more notable Shellac. What made Big Black stand out were two things: their shocking lyrics and their brutal sound. Albini bluntly talk sings or screams about harsh topics such as child abuse (chillingly narrated from the father’s point of view), racism, setting oneself on fire, and the general degradation of today’s society (one song is called “Fists Of Love”). The band’s noisy industrial assault matches their depraved lyrics to a fast, huge sounding drum machine (called Roland), which propels the memorable disco-y grooves of this albums two best songs, “Passing Complexion” and “Kerosene.” Roland is aided and abetted by a fascinating (if often repetitive) mixture of clangy, shrill guitars that are wielded like a razors edge, and Albini’s extreme vocals, which don’t quite succeed in sounding as threatening as he’s trying to, though not because of a lack of effort (more a lack of pipes, coupled with Albini’s recording technique whereby the vocals sound like they were recorded from another room). Big Black was an extreme outfit who are sure to polarize listeners, but whatever you think of their lack of tact, they clearly had an original sound, one whose dense, cacophonous clatter (which often approached white noise but with discernable melodies) could be quite intense. Note: The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape is a generous cd that includes Atomizer, which is widely regarded as the band’s best album, the Heartbeat single, and the Headache EP, the latter two are which are continuations of the former sound wise but with a drop off in quality song wise.

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