Thursday, January 29, 2009

Worlock - Skinny Puppy

In 1989, the same year that Nine Inch Nails crashed the industrial party with its excellent debut Pretty Hate Machine, a lesser-known Canadian group known as Skinny Puppy dropped their sixth album, Rabies. While much harsher and tougher, Rabies was also much weaker. But “Worlock,” a luscious, sinister nugget, far outshone anything else on Rabies. It ranks as one of Skinny Puppy’s best songs, and therefore by definition, is one of the best productions in all of industrial music.

As far as popular music goes, “Worlock” is rusted shrapnel to the ears. Moody synths alternately imbue the soundscape like a morbid pea soup fog, then slash at the melody in the chorus (here, the vocals are run through the synthesizers to take on whatever notes are being played). Heavily distorted vocals veer between a near whisper and a howl, and the lyrics on first glance seem stream-of-consciousness random phrases more than anything. (“Wasted views/That’s all they see blue/Hot blood, guilt, optic nerve” begins the first chorus.) For that matter, long-time fans still debate over what the song really is about. Addiction? Anti-animal cruelty? Insanity? Hardly your typical top 40 themes. But does it matter? The exact lyrics may elude dissection, but it’s clear that Nivek Ogre is grappling with some pretty harsh demons, and that intensity is compelling, almost overwhelming.

But as far as industrial music goes, “Worlock” is pretty damn near tuneful and poppy. It follows a simple intro-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-extended chorus-outro structure over the span of five and a half minutes. The chords are all minor, but follow a logical progression. And then there’s that synthesized rhythm section that threatens to goose-step any listener into oblivion - but damned if it isn't catchy as hell. As with many other Skinny Puppy songs, the beat pushes “Worlock” away from the realm of absolute evil and gives it a more accessible sheen.

A perfect amalgam of pop and industrial, “Worlock” is absolutely required listening for any Nine Inch Nails fan, and is an ideal place to start exploring one of industrial music’s most influential and abrasive acts. (But again, Rabies is weak and disappointing as a whole. Download the single instead.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I've Been Waiting - Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet’s third and breakthrough album from 1991, Girlfriend, is a glorious feedback-drenched album that rocks, although it could have been shorter by a third and subsequently doubled its punch. Hard-edged songs like “Divine Intervention” and the title song are rife with feedback and noise, but they play second fiddle to Sweet’s power pop infatuations and pure, almost boyish voice. The result is not as perfect as, say, another rock icon’s twee voice echoing against powerhouse rockers like “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Hey Hey My My (Into The Black).” But Neil Young succeeded in this realm in large part because he’d been working at it for decades; Girlfriend is an anomaly in Sweet’s pop repertoire, albeit a marvelous one.

So it makes sense that “I’ve Been Waiting” – pure, unironic, effusive summertime bubblegum celebrating the joys of teenage puppy love – is the unequivocal highlight of Girlfriend. Sweet wears his '60s and '70s influences on his sleeve; this song would sound perfectly at home in one of Big Star’s albums, and the chiming, freely interweaving guitars are channeled straight from Roger McGuinn's 12-string guitar licks. Aside from two bridges that give the song a harder edge and help ground it in the rest of Girlfriend's buzz, "I've Been Waiting" is a power pop creamsicle.

Imagine your heart fluttering as your high school crush tells you, without pretense or guile,“I didn’t think I’d find you perfect in so many ways.” Now imagine that set to one of the happiest pop melodies in existence. (Seriously – it rivals anything Alex Chilton, Roger McGuinn, or even Brian Wilson ever did.) On a subsequent verse, Sweet softly coos, “Secret on your lips/That nobody knows/Gentle in your eyes,” then exclaims “You can wear my clothes!” as if he’s had a life-changing epiphany. The innocence in his voice (perfectly matched to the song, by the way) is completely disarming.

All in all, "I've Been Waiting" is a perfect pop confection that never got its due as a single, but that only adds to its charm; stumble across this, and you've got the thrill of discovering long-buried treasure.