September 2011

Real Life Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (Matador). “If you want a picture of the future,” George Orwell wrote in 1984, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever. And remember that it is forever.” Fucked Up is a little like that. There must be few forces in the universe as unrelenting as the singer Pink Eyes’ hard-core slam of words, slogans, chants; at first listen he’s one single giant battering ram. At more than seventy-five minutes, the lifelong love story of David Comes to Life might as well go on forever. That’s all there as the album opens, but by the end it’s gone. I can’t speak for the subtleties of the story: it’s hard to catch a reading of The Sorrows ofYoung Werther in the middle of a riot, and a short novel’s worth of lyric sheets is not music. But as a work where words less tell a story than signify that, somewhere, a story is present, this is a gorgeous, invisibly layered, extraordinarily ambitious, and fully realized testament to how far, in the present moment, pop music can go. Throughout, female voices sweep in to undercut Pink Eyes’ male stomp, and every time you hear those voices, they seem to be coming from different people, from different times. There’s never a lessening of speed, frenzy, of action-movie action, but as the songs go on, all eighteen of them, an emotional if not narrative clarity begins to take over. Near the end, with “A Little Death,” “The Recursive Girl,” and “One More Night,” the numbers feel increasingly fresh, new, invigorating; the musicians sound as if they, too, are about to seize a new life.

(2/3) Eleventh Dream Day, Riot Now! (Thrill Jockey) and the Coathangers, Larceny & Old Lace (Suicide Squeeze). The Coathangers are a casual female punk band that’s been hanging around Atlanta for five years; Eleventh Dream Day is a Chicago group led by Rick Rizzo and Janet Bean for almost a quarter of a century—and just as a ninety-year-old is more likely than a fifty-year-old to live to a hundred, chances are Rizzo and Bean will still be pounding—Rizzo’s guitar playing can be more percussive than Bean’s drumming—when guitarist the Crook Kid Coathanger, drummer Rusty Coathanger, bassist Minnie Coathanger, and keyboard player Bebe Coathanger have gone on to other names. The Coathangers start off their third album with “Hurricane,” and they live up to the title in an instant. Just as you can see Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed in their “Hurricane” video (on YouTube), you can hear Sleater-Kinney in the blunt insistence of the singing, Delta 5 in the displacing bass breaks, and, most of all, Kleenex in the playground shouts of the chorus. And you can feel a glee, a sense of both escape and arrival in the right place at the right time, that makes where the band learned its tricks irrelevant. And after that it’s like a show where the costume changes are more compelling than the music. The group tries on one style after another, until, well before the record ends, each song sounds more contrived than felt. Riot Now! is Eleventh Dream Day’s tenth album, but there’s no pose struck anywhere on it; almost every track is infused with discovery, doubt, unease. The songs feel less like songs than jagged, almost random pieces of the same bad day. “Tall Man” is a moment of panic boiled down into a few words and a riff from Dramarama’s “Anything Anything”: you can imagine Rizzo and Bean seeing a guy on the street, saying, “He sure is tall,” then, half-jokingly, “He’s too tall,” then, not joking at all, “He’s too fucking tall to fucking live,” then the two of them imagining a building falling on him. With Bean shouting behind Rizzo’s everyman leads, there’s a core of ferocity in every number, and, with the way Bean’s voice sometimes seems to be suspended above Rizzo’s, a question mark to his exclamation point, a core of fatalism. There’s no hint in their music that life is ever going to get any easier, or any less interesting.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, and The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, and other books. His column, Real Life Rock Top Ten, runs monthly in the Believer.

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