Pop: Genius of doom and gloom
SMOG THE GARAGE LONDON
Tuesday 18 May 1999
Inside an absolutely packed venue, many people avoiding the end-of-season celebrations, Bill Callahan, for he is Smog, and a pair of backing musicians are attempting to make sense of something far more complicated than goal difference or the offside laws, and much gloomier than mere relegation. Life, that is.
Over a series of gradually more refined records, culminating in this year's quite brilliant Knock Knock, Callahan has carved a niche as the doom-mongers' doom-monger, somewhere between Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen, though without the joie de vivre of the former - or the latter, come to think of it. But Knock Knock's advanced arrangements - a children's choir, atmospheric if minimalist strings, and even some great rocking tunes like the ones Lou Reed used to write - prove an insurmountable challenge to the trio of Callahan, a drummer and another guitarist who occasionally plays keyboards.
A tentative "I Was a Stranger" from 1997's excellent Red Apple Falls, sets heads nodding sagely, and the relentless monochrome melodicism of "The Morning Paper" is even better, almost painfully intense. But "Cold Blooded Old Times", a dissection of dysfunctional family relationships which includes possibly the year's most chilling line ("How can I stand and laugh with the man who redefined your body?"), just scrapes along where the recorded version, er, choogles. The relentlessly mechanical current single "Held" and the album standout "No Dancing" sound like three-fifths of a band kicking about waiting for the other two to turn up to a rehearsal, and the brilliant "Ex-Con", once like New Order with proper lyrics, here becomes a minimal ominous boogie, before crawling into a feeble, scratchy, indie-pop conclusion. Worst of all, the magnificent "Hit the Ground Running", on disc two chords stretched over six minutes which seem like two, is morbidly slow, the drummer apparently bored and desperate to break out. Gentler songs - the lovely "River Guard" and the stripped "Let's Move to the Country" - fare better, with Callahan quite in control and singing beautifully.
The problem is that the unassuming Callahan, hairstyle from a Republican candidate's election literature and looking like a character from a Todd Solondz movie, seems so uncomfortable up there that it transmits to the increasingly restless audience. These wonderful songs deserve either a full band treatment or the naked emotion of one man and his acoustic guitar, not a clumsy compromise. This man is undoubtedly some kind of genius, but the show did not explain why.
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Windows 10: man updates PC, wakes up to find porn slideshow on repeat
- 2 The 'world's most beautiful vagina' has been debunked by science
- 3 John Green schools morning show hosts after awkward interview with Cara Delevingne
- 4 Bulletproof armadillo puts Texas man in hospital after shot bounces off hard shell
- 5 Doctors declare war on Jeremy Hunt over weekend working 'myths' amid plan for seven day NHS
Why Harry Potter's aged 35, not 26
Frank Ocean, where's that new album at?
Jon Snow: Kit Harington spotted in Belfast where Game of Thrones season 6 is filming
Drake responds to Meek Mill's 'diss' track 'Wanna Know' by laughing at the rapper on Instagram
Game of Thrones to run for at least eight seasons, according to HBO showrunners
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality