Thursday, 26 November 2009

Albums of the Decade: At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command

Is that a Trojan horse on the cover? I like to think so. The new millennium started with a year of awesome, spine-melting, rock-punk; Queens of the Stone Age broke into the big time with Rated R, superficially a loud, stupid cock-rock album, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead released Madonna (technically late 1999, but who's counting when there's a point to make?), superficially a punk album with proto-emo overtones and a side of snotty teenage rebellion, and, best of all, At the Drive-In dropped Relationship of Command, superficially the loudest, most drum-intensive thing ever to bleed out of your speakers at maximum volume. Of course, these dirty surfaces are deceptive: QOTSA are secretly very sophisticated, they create an stoned-desert atmosphere so thick it's like treacle, and Rated R contains a couple of Mark Lanegan's greatest vocal performances. ...AYWKUBTTOD have a real emotional bedrock, subtly underscored by the off-kilter music (see Mistakes and Regrets). But the biggest Trojan horse of all, of course, is Relationship of Command. Secretly, instead of the hammer it appears to be, it's a scalpel. A rocket-powered scalpel.

I remember seeing an At the Drive-In performance on Jools Holland (thanks, internet!). If they never did anything other than elicit the look of horror (sadly not on that YouTube clip) that crossed Robbie Williams' face when he realised that he would have to follow that crazily overpowered performance, I would love them. Happily for me, and also for people who missed that show, ATDI give use plenty of other reasons to love them. Firstly, RoC has, by far, the best opening 30 seconds of any album ever (featured below). Tribal drums plug directly into your animal instincts while a weird, super-treated, grinding guitar wobbles out an almost synth tone, shot through with feedback, but then, crucially, it stops. A lone bass bangs out a single note a few times, is answered by quiet piece of feedback, and then plaintively calls out again. This time the bass is answered more emphatically and is joined in its call by the guitar and the drums. It's like a non-pansy-assed version of Peter and the Wolf. Then all hell breaks loose.

If this sounds awesome to you, get the album. If it sounds awful, I'm probably not going to convince you with talk of texture-clashes, impressionistic sci-fi lyrics, virtuoso playing and Iggy Pop guest appearances. But I wish I could, because in many ways this kind of music set the tone for the decade, sadly setting the tone for Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit, but happily informing the work of crossover angular dance-punk like Bloc Party and the weird rock voyages of the Mars Volta. Overall, I like it because it makes me want to jump up and down.


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