“Storm the studio,” William S. Burroughs intones at the opening of the Meat Beat Manifesto album of the same name, and for about 80 minutes Jack Dangers and his friends proceed to do exactly that. In fact — they don’t just storm the studio, they kick everyone else clean out, junk all the furniture, and repaint the place in mighty garish colors. I’m not complaining, I’m celebrating.
After the abortive but still interesting Armed Audio Warfare the MBM crew set to work to create their real full-length debut, a double LP and full-length CD that functions as both a party record and a conceptual work. It’s abrasive, violent, turbulent, and consistently fascinating, much like the band itself has proven to be over the course of their recorded output. And it hasn’t aged a day in over ten years.
I’ve listened to Studio I don’t know how many times in the over-a-decade since it was released, and I don’t feel like I’m any closer to really figuring it out now than I was when I first spun it. This is not a bad thing; many of my favorite records (like The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion or the best works of the Firesign Theater) are similarly bottomless. Aside from having an engaging musical surface (or surfaces, plural), there are things going on deep inside this disc that I can only guess at. Every time you listen, something new pops out at you.
Studio was originally split across four LP sides, each a suite of sorts broken into four movements. The songs in each suite usually shared rhythmic or lyrical ideas, and while there were exceptions, the album worked just as well when it broke its own rules as when it followed them. The first track, “God O.D. Part 1,” had been previously released in a slightly different form as a 12” single; most of the differences are in the choices of samples used and the sequencing of the song’s events. Frankly, I like the 12” version better but the album mix, with its thumping big-drumset beats, blaring horn breaks and bellowing vocals, is a perfect way to kick things off.
It’s the progression of events from section to section that make the album a deep-listening experience. “God O.D. Part 2” uses some of the same basic beat ideas as its predecessor, but hitches it to a completely different set of sonic ideas. “Part 3,” on the other hand, is entirely different and bears no relation to the first two parts musically — but the lyrics are like another step in the same direction suggested by the first song. “Part 4” terminates the whole suite with a spiraling crescendo of rhythmic noise that sounds more like Einstürzende Neubauten falling asleep at the controls — or maybe the equally speaker-killing “Kneel & Buzz” from Armed Audio Warfare.
If “God O.D.” became a weapon, “Re-animator” is a healing force, a kind of sonic essay on the rejuvenating power of popular music. Not only is it littered with samples from many cultural touchstones — David Bowie’s “Young Americans” and “Fame,” just to name two — but the whole way the suite is arranged and deployed works to support that. Until the final part, anyway, where the rhythms that underpinned Part 3 come back as a menacing death-march, leading off with a unsettling sample about AIDS and tourism. It’s creepy, and it also shows how the album moves back and forth throughout between easy, seductive rhythms and uneasy feelings.
The third suite, “Strap Down,” is another frontal attack, a frantic beat with an equally frantic vocal pasted on top of it that culminates in yet another total breakdown. The CD version is missing one of the parts, but from what I understand it was simply edited down and condensed into another of the songs. “I Got the Fear” is a systematic recap of everything that came before. It starts even harder and more desperate than “Strap Down” — wailing dub sirens and panicked drum-rolls punctuating the song regularly — transforms into a feedback-laden death march of the same ilk as “Re-animator Pt. 4”, then recaptures the most spirited moments of “God O.D.” and “Re-animator”, and then ends with another shrieking plunge into “I Got The Fear / Strap Down”-style unease.
The album works one of two ways. You can pick up and put down the needle at your favorite points (i.e., “God O.D. Part 1” and the hell with the rest of Side 1, if you’re so inclined), or you can play it straight through and take quite a trip. (There’s barely a dud track on the whole disc, and even the less compelling stuff is mercifully short.) If all dance music was this smart and artistically inclined, maybe I wouldn’t feel like such a dweeb at raves.
Tags: Jack Dangers