More than 16 years on from his legendary stint behind the mixing desk helping the Pixies grind out the seminal Surfer Rosa, Steve Albini still has a lengthy queue of aspiring indie-rockers at his studio door. But of the zillions of acts that have enlisted his unique noise-mongering services over the years, few have come back for a second go.
Perhaps the key reason why Cardiff three-piece Mclusky are a rare exception to this rule is that they represent the archetypal Albini spirit of basic, uncompromising, discordant vitriol, laced with a wicked, sarcastic wit. Wearing their Big Black / Shellac influences on their sleeve, Mclusky could scarcely be produced by anyone else.
But of course production is only a small part of it. The success of the universally acclaimed Mclusky Do Dallas in 2002 – their second album, but first with Albini at the helm – was richly deserved thanks to the breakneck passion and magic eye for a killer hook that characterised it.
Comparing the cackling speed-punk of Lightsabre with the opening salvo on The Difference Between Me And You Is That I’m Not On Fire gives a telling indication of how Mclusky themselves have developed their noise since. Without MSG I Am Nothing presents a darker, cleverer, less immediately catchy approach, with singer Andy Falkous repeatedly wailing, “Everywhere I look it’s a darkness!” over impossibly low-pitched, sludgy guitars.
The chords are dragged up several octaves for the delightful She Will Only Bring You Happiness, the most pristine pop moment here. Chiming Joey Santiago guitar lines underwrite the sort of lyrics only this band could produce. “Note to self, be erect by half past ten”, Falkous cackles – and despite looking like a scaffolder, I doubt that’s what he was referring to. And just when you begin to dream of hearing this gem on daytime radio, the final refrain of, “Our old singer is a sex criminal,” tramples on that idea. Quite superb.
Elsewhere, Slay! sees this increasingly confident band tackling the intricacies of quiet/loud post-rock with results that would bring enduring pride to Mogwai. KK Kitchens, What Were You Thinking? is a 220 mph stuttering yelp that makes one wonder why any song would ever need more than 2 chords, and 1956 And All That chugs along brilliantly with a literally murderous glee – “Come out quick and name the dead, I’m sure we got a Scrabble score!” he yells before they start playing really quickly.
All this without even mentioning the discordant, jagged wail of Falco Vs The Young Canoeist, the hilariously loveably charm of Forget About Him, I’m Mint and, well, every other track on the bloody album for that matter.
Spinal Tap talked about treading the fine line between stupid and clever – with this album, Mclusky have crucially managed to become more stupid and more clever at the same time. The Welsh Shellac, the hardcore Half Man Half Biscuit, the ultimate Albini band – whatever you want to call them, Mclusky are just great.