Album Reviews

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees

(a) UK release date: 24 June 2022

19th studio album from Anton Newcombe and co is a thrilling ride with some important messages of determination and empowerment

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Fire Doesn't Grow On Trees

For decades, many have found themselves wooed by the largely underground psychedelic juggernaut that is The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Those that have, are aware of just how essential this band is, of course, having been swept along in their wake since their first release some 30 years ago.

Having seen a colossal ‘staff turnover’ since 1992, the one constant – mastermind Anton Newcombe – is widely acknowledged by those that know him as being a prolific talent that can play a multitude of instruments. However, immediately prior to when the first seedlings of 19th studio album Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees came to fruition, Newcombe had apparently experienced writers’ block. But then the floodgates opened and he found himself – with a handful of members from his band – laying down a track a day for something insane like 70 days on the bounce; you can only imagine the state of this man’s hard drive and the plethora of ideas sitting there (unsurprisingly a second album is also expected later this year).

Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees avoids much of the experimentation that 2017’s Don’t Get Lost delved into, sounding like a classic BJM record instead. This time, though, the inspiration behind much of the lyrical output is down to using “the fire inside you”; never a yes man, Newcombe has admirably followed his own path to create his destiny and now he is “singing to empower other people” to do just as he has been “compelled to do the right thing” which was always “in the face of adversity”. As the slow trudge of Before And Afterland declares, “my destiny’s not for you to choose”, and this is a main point of the entire record; “I wasn’t born in this world to lose”, he continues, words that every man, woman or child could use as inspiration.

At times, Newcombe readily admits it isn’t easy to forge your own way forward in the face of oppressive forces; during the mellow What’s In A Name?, he resignedly sings that it’s “getting hard to find the strength to live when no one’s got a shit left to give”. And upon this realisation, that’s when you need to battle against what’s on the inside just as much as what’s on the outside, as you could argue just what is the point of it all? The song title of It’s About Being Free, Really sums up everything in just a few words whilst the acoustic opening recalls The Rolling Stones and, subsequently, Primal Scream.

#1 Lucky Kitty also gives you a further nudge if you still need it – “there’s nothing left to lose” – amongst some attention-grabbing chiming guitars. Silenced, however, deals with suppression and basically the right to hear the truth, although deciphering any lyric is always subject to individual interpretation so get it on and make your own mind up. Which is, in a way, again the kind of message being delivered here.

Musically, what most probably drew you into the BJM world in the first place is here in abundance. Lead track The Real is all about the percussion and underlying drone before one of those familiarly spellbinding guitar solos sets in; the chugging Ineffable Mindfuck rocks to a motorik beat and driving bassline whilst psychedelically warped guitar swoops in and out; a persistent guitar riff then produces another classic BJM moment for Wait A Minute (2:30 To Be Exact); and a psychedelic haze enshrouds You Think I’m Joking before some great guitaring emerges from the fog – somehow sounding like what most music sounds like when you’re stoned – allegedly.

Looking back, you’d be hard pushed to find a poor BJM album, particularly from the most recent back catalogue and Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees just adds to the brilliance that precedes it with perhaps the only ingredient missing being that of a dusky female vocalist adorning a track or two, something that has worked wonders for Newcombe over the years through Tess Parks and many others. From start to finish, it’s a thrilling ride with some important messages of determination and empowerment that swirl above annoyance, frustration and resignation. Once again, the Berlin-based Newcombe has crafted yet another worthy addition to his portfolio; do yourself a favour and get out there and buy it.

Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Photo: Thomas Girard)

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