Big Black – ‘Songs About Fucking’: Round 20 – Rob’s choice

I bought ‘Songs About Fucking’ shortly after it came out. I was 16. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d read a couple of reviews and, having noted the discussion of the drum machine, the grinding bass and the cover version of ‘The Model’ I was expecting something like a heavier version of New Order.

I got the record home, snuck it upstairs past my parents, played it once and immediately hid it under a stack of much older records. I was petrified. Never heard anything like it, never even contemplated that anything like it might even exist out there. I can still remember how my room looked the day I first heard the record, and still taste the horror, disgust and fear that I was left with. I hid it away so I didn’t have to think about it and it was six months until I played it again. That was 25 years ago. It’s been one of my favourite albums for about 23 years now.

‘Loud’ is a slippery theme, but I chose ‘Songs About Fucking’ because, more than any other record i’ve ever heard, it absolutely seethes with volume. Not only can you hear the tracks straining, pushing and pounding to burst out of their own skins, but you’re left in no doubt that, if they do manage to break free, they’ll go straight for your throat (probably to give you a ‘Columbian Necktie’). I have many records which are more shouty, have more rocket-powered guitars on them, have more frenzied beats, gunshots, howls, bits of metal being obliterated by industrial machinery, but none of them possess a spiritual loudness, an unquenchable violence in their DNA, their soul, like Big Black’s second and last album.

Steve Albini used a drum machine in Big Black because he knew where he was going and he knew no human drummer could keep the beat as quickly, consistently and relentlessly as he needed. The drums on this record go off like a pounding rail gun. He played his guitar with metal picks to which he’d attached industrial metal chippings so they would give a sound like two guitars being played at once. The guitars on this record buzz, squeal, scrape, fizz and skinng (Albini’s word for the sound) like wild animals being dragged towards a meat grinder. Albini has an reputation as a misanthrope which may be unfair, but this record lays out a cast of characters none or whom you would want to meet were they to step off the vinyl.

‘Songs About Fucking’ has inspired some great lines from critics since its release, many from writers who shared my initial repulsion but realised also that to make something this effective, this driving, this brutal, this memorable is an achievement that deserves recognition. Look ’em up, google the title (no, really), they’re worth it. I think it represents the end of something. It’s not possible to take this line of attack any further than Albini and his fellow sociopaths did here.

It’s just 29 minutes long. I’ve been listening to it for 24 and a half years since I retrieved it from it’s hiding place and still, after all that time, it never fails to give off one hell of a charge. Every single time. I can’t think of any other records I own that can hold a candle to it in that regard.

Nick listened: I know Rob’s been pondering how record club would react to noise since its inception, and threatening to bring this album along every fortnight to find out… Big Black are a name I’m very aware of, but not a band I’ve ever been tempted to taste for myself, despite the fact that I’m a big fan of the sound Albini engineers in other people’s music; on finally hearing this, my hesitancy was warranted, because as much as I might love the sound of Electrelane or Nina Nastasia (and their songs) and even In Utero (as long as you tweak the bass and treble settings as suggested in the booklet), this is a very different record indeed. I’m very glad I’ve heard it, and I “enjoyed” it more than I thought I would – the fact that the noise was used as a vehicle for recognisable song shapes (and, of course, one very recognisable cover) made it much easier to consume; I guess I’d been vaguely fearful that the songs themselves might not exist at all. That it’s brief certainly helps too. I doubt I’ll be buying my own copy, but I’m glad Rob’s got his, and loves it so much.

Tom Listened: I thought this was great…and I didn’t really expect to! In fact, Songs About Rumpy Pumpy (just in case the kids ever read this) has probably been the biggest surprise for me since we started DRC. Whilst the sound of the record was not far from what I expected, there was much more space and dynamic range than I thought there would be, with barely a sniff of that heads down thrash your fingers until they bleed hardcore rifforama that has always put me off. And there were melodies. And it wasn’t terrifying in the least. Now I just need to find a way to smuggle the sleeve past the kids! Not one for long car journeys with the family.

Graham Listened: I knew this album for its reputation, and more chiefly, its cover. I prepared my self for the aural onlsaught, but hey, it wasn’t that scary at all!

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