Album Reviews

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Who Killed Sgt Pepper?

(Cargo) UK release date: 22 February 2010

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Who Killed Sgt Pepper? At their best, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are gloriously chaotic and shockingly prolific. So when Who Killed Sgt Pepper?, their first album for two years, describes itself as their most cultured to date, should we be worried?

Perhaps. But then again, we only need glance through the track listings to realise we’re not very far from business as usual. Song titles include Let’s Go Fucking Mental and Super Fucked. The self-destructive musical genius of BJM frontman Anton Newcombe hasn’t sold out quite yet. Instead, he’s simply tidied himself up and pulled himself together enough to provide something more easily accessible than large swathes of his previous work. Whether slick(ish) professionalism improves his efforts is for you to decide.

Four of the songs found here are taken from EPs released between Who Killed?… and its predecessor My Bloody Underground – opener Tempo 116.7 (Reaching for Dangerous Levels of Sobriety) and the aforementioned Super Fucked, both from 2008’s Smoking Acid EP plus, from last year, The One and This Is The First Of Your Last Warnings, both from the EP that took the name of the former. In these days of digital downloads and entire back catalogues available at the click of a mouse, it does seem something of a cheat to fill a third of an album with tracks that are already available in other formats, but the new material is easily strong enough to soften the blow.

From the spacey opening bars of Tempo 116.7, the album dances through trancey psychedelic dreamscapes to dark shoegaze comedowns, looping handclaps and wasteland sonics as it goes. Will Carruthers of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized joins in the fun and there’s a welcome return for Unnur Andrea Einarsdöttir, who also contributed vocals last time around. Progressive and knowing, the album weaves a trail through musical influences of the last half century, contemplating its navel while reaching for the stars.

As usual, Newcombe wears his inspiration unashamedly on his sleeve. The usual spectre of acid-drenched psychedelic stoner pop looms large as ever, but this time it takes bizarre detours into ’80s electronic eurotrash as well as the more obvious looped beats of Madchester. Detka! Detka! Detka! sounds like Stock Aitken Waterman remixing Devo, if you can imagine that such a thing might actually work, while Let’s Go Fucking Mental is a terrace chant waiting to be adopted.

The result is a remarkably mature album, accessible and immensely clever in equal measure. Its roots are entrenched in San Francisco but its branches reach out to the world, evoking vague memories of wandering home at 4am from a ’90s superclub, with Oakenfold beats still refusing to leave you alone as the first rays of the sun creep over a blood-red horizon. In places, Newcombe wraps you in a warm embrace. In others, his detached narration runs fingernails down the spine of your paranoia.

Then, in the perfect send-off, he gives us the 10-minute long closer Felt-tipped Pictures of UFOs, which is every inch as innocent and spaced as its title implies. Tinny Casiotones beneath spoken word party conversations sound like transmissions from a malfunctioning radio, an experience on the edge of perception that never quite tunes in. Half remembered, half acknowledged, half understood, it is, in short, very subtly brilliant.

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