Sunday, 22 May 2011

David Koresh Superstar

I don’t think I’ve spend enough time on this blog gushing about how awesome Songs for Swinging Lovers by the Indelicates is, so here goes. Songs for Swinging Lovers is an absolute masterpiece of modern Alternative Rock. Musically incredible, lyrically genius, funny and cutting in equal measure, catchy and incredibly deep at the same time. Simply awesome, and, until recently, you could download it for nothing from Even now, it’s only £5. Go get it.

Why do I bring this up (apart from the fact that you MUST listen to this album)? Because The Indelicates just brought out a new album called David Koresh Superstar, which is not as good as Song for Swinging Lovers, but is still pretty damn awesome. I know, aren’t you lucky, two reviews in as many weeks!

David Koresh Superstar (which will henceforth be referred to as DKS for the sake of ease) is a concept album about the Waco Siege, which took place in Waco, Texas in 1993. For those that don’t know about it, read all about it here. If you don’t care that much, read a much shorter summary here. The album’s hero is David Koresh, the insane leader of the Davidians sect of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, with a host of other characters popping up occasionally, including Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma Bomber, who cited the Waco Siege as one of his primary motivations for his actions.

Now, when you have a story about a bunch of mad cultist holding up in a church with guns and waiting for the apocalypse, it’s very easy to write a concept album slamming religion and about how utterly insane extremism can be. There is a good deal of that in DKS, songs like Gethsemane and A Book of the Seven Seals deal with religious fanaticism and the dangers of extremism, while I am Koresh and Superstar deal with Koresh’s own personal megalomania. However there is a lot more to the album that that.

DKS sets the scene with Remember the Alamo, a country and western style song which sets the heroic stand of the Texans at the Alamo in 1836 as the backdrop of the siege, placing the events of the album firmly in the 19th century, not the late 20th. This puts us in mind of the cowboy, wild-west romanticism of law-into-themselves individuals defying the incompetence of the local law enforces to deliver rough justice. It has the effect of lifting the Waco siege above a bunch of gun touting religious nuts holed up in a church and turns the Davidians into sort-of heroes (without actually condoning them or relieving them of the burden of criticism).

This has the effect of turning the attention onto the ATF (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), who conducted the initial raid. The song Ballad of the ATF quite brutally slams the ATF for gross incompetence and excess of force. Indeed it is here that we mostly clearly see the brilliance of The Indelicate’s cutting satirical tongue. Not only does it strongly criticise the ATF, but indirectly, and equally effectively, aims at the quintessentially American attitude to world politics. The complete self-obsession and painful self-righteousness that America has displayed through most of the post-war period is brilliantly exposed in scything satire.

The satire does not end there, however. The very next song turn the attention of the ridicule onto the arrogant individualism displayed by people like Koresh and McVeigh, about whom the song is written and after whom it is named. The blinkered conviction that they are right and that everyone else should agree or get stuffed is wonderfully satirised. It is made abundantly clear through the juxtaposition that these two attitudes (so much alike in many ways) cannot be at odds, because neither side it going to stand down.

The consequences of this confrontation are hinted at in the very next song, What if You’re Wrong? The song is a plea from Koresh’s followers to consider the possibility that he’s not the messiah and not to allow the siege to continue towards the conclusion to which it eventually leads. It is telling that the only response to this plea is the song A Book of the Seven Seals, which only highlights Koresh’s religious megalomania and does nothing to answer his critics. This is just one example of the next level of complexity in the album; it is not just a criticism of religious extremism, or a satire of the American consciousness, it also has a sensitive side that considered the plight of the victims of the events; the people caught up in the storm of Koresh’s charisma and unable to leave when things start getting really serious.

Most of these sensitive touches come through Julia, the female vocalism of the band. I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of female vocalists, but Julia’s work both here and on Songs for Swinging Lovers has completely changed my mind. A Single Thrown Grenade is probably my favourite song on the album. It’s the story of a girl swept up in Koresh’s charisma. The naïve innocence of it all is tragic when looked at in the light of the terrible consequences of the siege. One wonders just how many of the 80 who died at Waco were likewise star-struck by Koresh and were only there as part of the twisted cult of personality surrounding him.

Likewise The Woman Clothed with the Sun tells the story of Lois Roden, Koresh’s predecessor and lover. It’s importance, and the importance of the sympathetic point of the song is shown by the fact that it is sandwiched between the two songs that introduce is to Koresh’s character; The Road from Houston to Waco and I am Koresh. Indeed A Single Thrown Grenade follows directly after the latter, highlighting it’s importance in the piece.

The last of the sympathetic song actually regards Koresh himself. Superstar, the penultimate song on the album, has an angelic female voice, backed with a violin, address Koresh and puts his death in the frame of a romantic and tragic hero who had the best of intentions, but was just unfortunate to be wrong and to go down in such a blaze of glory. This is backed up by a cover of a Gospel/Blues song by Blind Willie Johnson, called John the Revelator, which ends the album.

While the themes of the story are most important to DKS, it is all put in the framework of a story that is told very well through the music. In particular The Siege, a minimalist instrumental piece that builds up the tension and drama of the fifty day siege beautifully, as well as providing a neat bridge between the middle of the album in which much of the thematic conflict is resolved and the dramatic climax of the story. Another good example of the story telling in DKS is Something Goin’ Down in Waco, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on the musical theatre practice of having characters tell the story through speech as music plays.

The Road from Houston to Waco and I am Koresh both work to develop the character of Koresh, the first telling the story of his life up to the siege of Waco, the second detailing his complete megalomania and conviction of his own messiah-hood. This is one of two parts of the album which doesn’t work quite so well for me. Both songs seem a little forced. Rather than showing us Koresh’s character, these songs tell it, the first in particular. It is hard to write a good narrative through song, when you also have to worry about rhythm and rhyme and the music that goes with it. I would have liked a somewhat less heavy handed approach to Koresh’s past to have been taken.

The other part of the album that I have a problem with is the song I don’t Care if it’s True. I actually first heard this song on Songs for Swinging Lovers, because it was included as a bonus track to act as a taster for DKS. The funny thing is that I think it actually feels better on Songs for Swinging Lovers. I can’t place exactly what it’s getting at and where it fits into the narrative. It might just be that I find it’s out of place because it’s a song with which I am very familiar, whereas the rest of the music is wholly new to me, however I have tried without success to look past this bias and slot it into the album, but it just doesn’t seem to fit, both musically and lyrically.

As you have probably guessed I am absolutely flabbergasted by the writing on this album. It is a brilliant mix of narrative, character studies and thematic work that hangs together perfectly. The more you look at the composition of the album, the better it looks. Right down to the order in which the tracks come it’s outstanding. The perfection of the rest of it makes the fact that I don’t Care if it’s True doesn’t quite sit with album even more glaring. It sticks out like a sore thumb in my mind, which is really irritating. Despite this, the composition of the album is still great and the writing on the individual songs is outstanding as well. From cutting satire to sensitive, human tragedy, this album has a lot of variety, but still feels like a united whole.

I’ve not really talked much about the music itself, as opposed to the lyrics, partly because the composition of the album demands a close study of the lyrics, and because I’m far more comfortable analysing and discussing lyrics than I am with music. Nevertheless I will see what I can do.

The music on the album really is good. The acoustic guitar and steel drums on the early tracks sets the Wild Western theme for the album really well. This style stays with the album to an extend, but it evolves into a much more Rock and Roll style by I am Koresh. Through the middle of the album the music turns almost theatrical, sounding as though it belongs in a musical. As with many of the songs in this section of the album, the music it self feels somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The rock music returns in earnest towards the end of the album, with hints of the country and western feel from earlier in the album. The more sensitive and tragic songs are picked out with a very appropriate change down in temp and change to a more delicate style. The music on the album really compliments the composition and ensures DKS sounds and feels right. It’s not as immediately obvious as the lyrics (to me, anyway) but it’s at least as well written and thought through.

I think it should be fairly obvious to all of you by now that I am a massive fan of this album. Seriously, it’s incredible. The Indelicates have done it again! I said earlier that it’s not as good as Songs for Swinging Lovers. Without going into a long discussion of why Songs for Swinging Lovers is such a masterpiece, here’s why.

DKS is a classic ‘grower’. At first listen it’s pretty good, but nothing out of this world. There are some catchy tunes and some really interesting pieces of music, but a lot of the subtly washes over you. As you study the background to the album and really listen to the songs, you get a much greater appreciation for all the nuances and the little things that make this album really special. DKS makes you work for your kicks, it makes you really have to think and explore it in order to get the most out of it. This is not a bad thing at all, but it reduces the instant appeal.

Songs for Swinging Lovers, by contrast, immediately hits home with some really strong, powerful songs that really get the point across with a minimum of effort and complexity. The thing is that the rabbit hole is as deep as you want it to be; the more you explore the album, the better it gets. It hits home instantly, then keeps sinking in and keeps giving.

DKS might not quite live up to its predecessor, but it’s still a fantastic album in its own right. Go get it from here right now. The best thing is that, even if the last three pages (might be a new record) have not convinced you, you needn’t pay a penny for it. Using Corporate Records’ (a company set up by the Indelicates) pay-what-you-like system, you can download the album for as much or as little as you like. If you do pay, at least 80% will go to the artist, so you know your money is going to the right place. I encourage you to pay, the Indelicates are not big, nor are they famous, but they are incredibly talented and deserve to be far more popular that they are. They can only continue to create great music like this with money from sales. If you’re unsure, then don’t pay, but if you like what you hear, then pay for the next album and pay for their other two albums on the site. Either way, you really should get this album, it’s fantastic.

No comments:

Post a Comment