In quite fabulous timing for this review, there was an intriguing article in the Guardian’s music section yesterday entitled When Bands Fall Off Cliffs. Ostensibly about how some bands find massive success and then the next release sees their fanbase simply fall away – and there were some pretty sobering and unexpected examples in the article.
But mostly it concentrated on the way that sales fall away: and there are often a number of reasons for this. Either tastes and fashions change, a band simply makes a bad album, the record label fails or withdraws support and promotion…
Which brings me to Skinny Puppy. Remarkably, with a bit of a break on the way, it is now twenty-seven years since Skinny Puppy first unleashed their intense, weird brand of industrial to the world. In that time they have influenced countless bands, developed a truly unique sound, taken sampling to new heights in industrial music, and gone to quite considerable lengths to provide some spectacular visual accompaniment and live shows. But with the benefit of hindsight, when was the last truly awesome moment they had? The last one that really pushed things forward?
Well, it sure as hell wasn’t on the awful Mythmaker (now a remarkable four years old), and while The Greater Wrong Of The Right was a solid return, it wasn’t exactly pushing the envelope – unless you count pissing off a whole scene with breakdancing goths, of course. So the last album of real note is The Process, the nightmarish, experimental album that took three years to finish, taking in all kinds of turmoil, not least the death of Dwayne Goettel. While the album is an acquired taste, it was from a band who were unafraid of experimenting.
Which makes this new album, and indeed the material that they have released since their reformation, so frustrating. Everything in the recent albums has been the sound of a band who are content with their lot, and are simply churning out material that sounds like Skinny Puppy, is of course performed by Skinny Puppy…but seems any of the old danger or crackle of inspiration seems curiously absent.
In the main, anyway. The arrival of this long-awaited and long-delayed album was heralded last month by the release online of Village, a storming industrial maelstrom that might just work on dancefloors. The production is dense and woozy, with off-kilter sounds everywhere, and ohGr firing off scattergun lyrics that are more important for the atmosphere they assist with creating than with what they actually mean – I’ve long since given up trying to decipher his wordplay.
It isn’t any surprise that this was the first track properly released – it is by a long, long way the best thing here. Everything else just feels, well, half-arsed. Like a “will this do?”. Well, no, it won’t, not when this album has been created over such a long period.
Ovirt is made really bloody irritating by the cheap-sounding, chiming synths that dominate it, Wavy sounds like a recycled concept from a previous album, while Gambatte‘s bizarre, clunking beats and apparently random samples should have been culled before the album was completed. Brownstone, on the other hand, is perhaps the best argument against drugs in music I’ve ever heard.
There are a few other passable moments. Cullorblind is a well-crafted, well, industrial-rock ballad, and AshAs uses some intriguing effects (mournful string samples, in particular), and as a result sounds like a less cryptic, and more heartfelt, song than we’ve come to expect from the band. Apparently it is a tribute to a friend who passed away, and if that is the case, it actually hits the mark well. Icktums is another industrial dancefloor track – well, as much as SP make tracks for the dancefloor – that is of note in this company at least.
And then finally, there is the final track, that appears to have been recorded at an entirely different time and mindset to the rest of the album. A lengthy breakcore/d’n’b workout, NoiseX sounds nothing like anything recorded by the band before, and taken in isolation is a fascinating diversion…but on this album it feels jarringly out of place.
There is one good thing to say for this album – at least it is better than Mythmaker. But really, that isn’t saying a great deal. It isn’t even close, aside from one song, to getting near the staggering heights the band reached before. But maybe that is asking a lot. No band can keep up a purple patch forever, but it is hard not to feel that the creative well of this band is beginning to run rather empty – and that their side projects, particularly Download and ohGr, are a damned sight more interesting and creative than the beast that is Skinny Puppy nowadays.
It isn’t often that I hope that an album is the last one a band releases, but sadly this is one of those. Maybe it is time to accept that Skinny Puppy have run their course, and to leave their trailblazing reputation intact, before they fall any further?
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