It blossomed in 2005. In 2006 it was over. In 2011 it was merely nostalgia. In 2014, with absence seemingly having made a lot more hearts grow a lot fonder, it begins again. Death From Above 1979 are finally back.
The absence has certainly helped the myth. It’s worth remembering that upon initial release, their debut sold in the sort of quantities that would have disappointed a winner of The Voice. That isn’t to question its quality – You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine remains a brilliant record, noisy and antisocial but with a massive heart and massive riffs – but that a decade long stretch of hindsight has turned it into a sacred artefact of dance-punk and its makers into semi-legendary proponents of a genre.
For them, and they’ve admitted as such, the burden of the past has been hard to carry, with the spectre of Death From Above 1979 frustrating looming over whatever else they do. For Sebastien Grainger, that involved him seguing into more straightforwardly rock territory with his (underrated) solo work. For Jesse Keeler, the focus moved onto the dancefloor, with MSTRKRFT‘s pounding, arena sized techno.
Considering those two things as points on a line, you can see how Death From Above 1979 came to be. Although we can be certainly be glad that Keeler’s taste in albums sleeves (see the ‘tasteful’ arse based theme to the last MSTRKRFT record) hasn’t been shared. Actually, the sleeve for The Physical World is pretty telling, reinforcing the link between this and the debut. The forthright suggestion of a pachyderm based continuum of records. It’s hardly subtle, but then they were never a subtle band. The Physical World is delivered with a healthy, splenetic dose of “Well, you’ve been fucking asking for it”. You can’t let us do anything else without reference to our last band? Fine. Here is is. More Death From Above 1979 material.
Is that a problem? Well, no. They are right. We have been fucking asking for it. The opening Cheap Talk splutters and spits and grinds away mercilessly, as Grainger’s drums grab onto the bucking bassline and hang on for dear life. The magnificent Right On, Frankenstein! keeps the momentum: spiky, tension building verses keeping the powder dry until the chorus can explode in noisy glory. As opening salvos go, it’s pummeling, frenetic and exhaustingly good fun. If you judge them, indeed if you judge the entire album, against the criteria of what we requested, it’s pretty much flawless. They’re both spectacularly brilliant Death From Above 1979 songs: muscular and streamlined and with an hyper-kinetic drive that makes you want to fling yourself about with giddy abandon. That also goes for the juddering frantic stomp of Crystal Ball, it goes for the colossal, speaker wobbling bottom end of Trainwreck 1979 and it particularly goes for the thrashy, bilious rage of Government Trash.
But actually, the best song on here is the one which is the least expected. White Is Red has a car, some parents (who don’t understand) and a girl called Frankie (a heartbreaker). It also has Keeler taking time out from using the bass as a blunt object to beat you with, instead investigating the plaintive melodic potential of four strings. It’s romantic, yearning, totally Springsteen-esque and totally not like the others. That isn’t to say that The Physical World be markedly better for having 11 more tracks like it. But it does show another side to Death From Above 1979, one which isn’t just dedicated to giving us what we’ve been fucking asking for.
That bodes well for the future. A future which isn’t entirely clear – what do you do after you’ve given the people exactly what they want. Still, and far more importantly, the here and now is straightforward. The Physical World is a tremendous, rollicking, riotous blast of an album.