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Sugar - Beaster (1993) Retail CD
As someone once said, the blues isn't about feeling better. It's about making everyone else feel worse.Horror stories are still told about how, during the course of making this record, Bob Mould, Sugar's legendary front-man, incapacitated himself, actually not being able to speak. As Bob writes in the album's sleeve-notes, "I thought that this material was going to be a bit difficult for some people to comprehend ... now I'm not sure what to think, so it's time to let go of it".So this record represents a release, a getting-it-out-there, such that everyone else can sort it out. For one thingmore…, I'm glad I'm not Bob Mould. It really does sound like sheer hell in there. The Lord only knows which demons Bob was wrestling with, but it sounds like an act of demonic genocide more than a clean fight.Take the smooth, shiny bits away from "Copper Blue" and you've got "Beaster". It is not, however, as frighteningly grotesque as the band prepared everyone for before its release, what with their references to an album so impossibly dark and frighteningly heavy that they couldn't bring themselves to listen to it.The album takes off every so gently, with a wash of synth and acoustic guitar that brings to mind an air-balloon gently rising up into a clear blue sky, on the ethereal, cathedral choir-boy mantra of "Come Around" - only to knock your front teeth clean out with "Tilted". If you've ever seen the film of "Lawnmower Man", the Steven King novel, listening to "Tilted" on full volume is like having layers of your brain shaved off with that same lawnmower. "I only do these things to freak you out", screams Bob as he fires-up his lawnmower guitar for the most technically competent and ear-meltingly brilliant rock guitar solo ever to be committed to tape. Question: can someone kindly explain to me how the guitar can be played this well? Trust me; Sir Bob of Mould has absolutely no competition in the air-guitar-God stakes. I don't much care for Satriani, Vai, Van Halen or Malmsteen or any other of that breed of guitar-god, but you can bet your every last dollar that they sure as Hell know who Bob Mould is. (Incidentally, I am alone in being reminded by this track of "Fortune Teller" on "Copper Blue"...?)We cruise into the ragged, apocalyptic ending ruins of "Tilted" - replete with preacher-man ending, reminiscent of Ministry's "Psalm 69" - and we're watching Bob rolling around, up-close in a padded-cell of religious torment, only to roll straight on into "Judas Cradle". This is the sound of a man who has cried himself raw down in the dungeons of his soul, pleading for some kind of deliverance on a Biblical scale as he begs "throw me back into the fire, peel the skin away from bones, as the smoke keeps rising higher as the Judas cradle moans". This is Bob's darkest point and every carefully-honed second of it is the sound of a man teetering on the edge, a man screaming at reality itself, a man who's perhaps gone beyond the edge but somehow got it back together enough to unleash this pivotally demented piece of music on the world. This is the savage scream of birth of his worst schizoid nightmare, the moment when he has is coughing up bile, such is the intensity of his despair - but pain has never felt this good before.Perhaps the Messiah heeds his call, because next up is "J C Auto", which provides deliverance on a grand scale. By the time we hit track four, we are really motoring. We're not scared of anything - we're taking on the world and we're zooming off into power-chord heaven. Exactly a decade after its release, this is the track that stands out above all others. All the clichés about hairs standing on end were invented for this song, and just one moment in particular; yes, the silvery, joyous, climactic guitar solo, just before Bob launches into the gibbering, ranting, screamed, despairing chorus where he screams "Jesus Christ" in various ways over and over again. It's the moment of religious ecstasy, the moment at which Bob's despair crystallises action and makes him looking inside himself for his last reserves of inner strength. You might even argue that the whole album is just a scaffolding for these six glorious minutes of the most intensely, euphorically delirious heavy guitar tune-smithery that have ever been penned. Every glorious moment of this song screams passion, devotion and authenticity and, despite the most utter, dreadful, gut-wrenching despair, Bob's working it all out ("I need some time to reconcile / I need some time to heal a while"). Musically, we're rooting around in the same territory as The Pixies and AC/DC but any comparison is almost as much of an affront as it is irrelevant - because none of those other bands needs to exist once you've squeezed "J C Auto" in through your ears. It's just utterly, totally wonderful and makes me weep and smile all at once.Even Bob knows that "J C Auto" is pure purgative magic, because the next song is titled "Feeling Better". We're back in conventional "Copper Blue"-era territory here - and the raucous synth line that could almost have been pilfered straight from The Cure's "Hot Hot Hot!!!" is a clue that we're powering away from the desolate trilogy of "Tilted", "Judas Cradle" and "J C Auto", but it's not quite over for Bob as he taunts "hope you're feeling better / I'm not better yet" ... "I gave you everything I had / there's nothing left for me to say / I guess it's time to walk away". Musically this is the weakest point on the album, but we can smilingly forgive Sugar that as the three tracks that have gone before will never be bettered by any other rock band, ever; period. Honourable mentions go to Sugar themselves for "Gift" and "Your Favourite Thing" on the follow-up album, "File Under Easy Listening" (ha! the irony!), but we're talking an altogether different experience by then.The finale, "Walking Away" picks up where "Come Around" left off and feels like the Commendation from the end of a funeral service. Slightly wonky-sounding strings and organs provide a washed backdrop as Bob sings "walking away back to you I do", as if he's given up on his angst and is reduced to embracing the person who caused it all, but the hope is that poor old Bob has sorted it all out and has genuinely figured out how to leave all the pain and angst behind.This is big, serious, epic stuff. Please leave in hushed, stunned silence.
- Sugar - Beaster (1993) Retail CD
- 818 x 800 px
- 124 KB
- 137 (0 today)
- 30/04/07 by allcdcovers
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