rowland s howard – teenage snuff film

and all those secret parts of you
i won’t, i cannot give ‘em back
the scattered signs of whispered clues
indelible as tattoos, scars and tear tracks

i didn’t know this existed when it was made. i doubt i would have been receptive. i was in the midst of adoring folk-like music. folk it is not.

it’s dark and a little dirty; smarter sounding smut compared to, say, the beasts of bourbon (one of whom provides bass on this album, brian hooper, who also has band links to kim salmon). some of it’s even a little scary – i don’t need to explain why i burnt your clothes is one such song. the twang of the guitars, and the impulse of the rhythms, make it sound genuinely like a soundtrack (though more akin to a western than a slasher in my mind).

all players’ contributions are clean as anything. for the first time, i could imagine each part played on its own. rowland’s lead guitar slices; you feel every cut, especially as sleep alone closes out the album (it’s genuinely uncomfortable to listen to, but amazing). his vocals reach into your deepest recesses, parts of the gut you never knew you had. brian’s bass is as good as any you’ll hear, and carries a lot of the weight of the songs (they’re heavy). and mick harvey does what he does best, especially on organ. other players come and go, but the sound across the album is so consistent, they’re hard to discern.

the album contains two great covers. she cried which channels its ‘60s girl group origins in a way that makes it fit perfectly among all the other songs, which is weird. even more strange is white wedding – i must admit that i had an inexplicable fascination with billy idol when i was younger. when i first heard it on this album, i didn’t immediately recognise it, though it was familiar. the off-beat approach makes it lumber along beautifully.

but the greatest strength is in the originals. my favourite is undone; it charts a painful loss through loud anger and quiet rumination on past intimacy. he lashes out, he wonders why it’s come to this, we shared so much more, i just wanna make love to you. breakdown (and then…) similarly feels restrained yet visceral, like it’s building to something messy.

maybe i’m angrier now, 20 years since this was made. that’s the only way i can make sense of this making sense to me, aside from its innate brilliance.

i do not wanna be your friend
how could you forget the words i wrote?
declared for all the world to see
a sign of blood across your throat

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