"This record is more mean-spirited."
The official line on the 11th record by [a]Shellac[/a] is predictably terse and to the point: “This record is more mean-spirited.” For it to have spirit of any description comes as a relief, following the sucking letdown that was 1998’s pristine, emotionally stillborn ‘Terraform’. But from its title inwards, ‘1000 Hurts’ marks the rekindling of Steve Albini‘s soul. Far from the misanthropic brat his legend maintains, Albini has always seemed motivated by moral outrage at the horrific capabilities of humankind. In his best work – and ‘1000 Hurts’ is just that – this unflinching desire to probe and expunge evil has ignited in revolutionary assaults on the conventions of that which is called rock.
Because [a]Shellac[/a] rocks here like absolutely nothing else. Packaged, as ever, with an erotic eye for the process of manufacturing recorded sound – the vinyl comes in a 12-inch reel-to-reel audio tape carton – ‘1000 Hurts’ makes its intentions clear from the opening ‘Prayer To God’. In a voice bereaved by malice, a cuckolded Albini invites divine retribution for his woman and her lover. She, he says, “can go quietly, with disease or a blow”, but he demands humiliation and pain. As the inestimable Todd Trainer/ Bob Weston engine room rains down the life-sapping hammer blows, Albini screams his death mantra: “Kill him/Fucking kill him/Kill him already/Kill him”. Tellingly, for those who recall the previous album’s introductory folly (12 minutes, three notes, no cigar), it’s all over in less than 150 seconds and conveys more authentic rock’n’roll savagery than a swarm of killer bees unleashed on Satan’s pecker.
coda, ‘Shoe Song’ invokes the similarly hysterical denouement of Slint‘s ‘Good Morning, Captain’, possibly the only group or song that [a]Shellac[/a] deem worthy of such a comparison. There’s even levity, particularly Albini offering an adversary out for fisticuffs on the closing ‘Watch Song’.
Evidently, jamming was not on the agenda, and for that relief much thanks. Peerless players they may be, but focus becomes [a]Shellac[/a]. One superfluous instrumental aside, not once do the principals lock in and merely admire the pornographic beauty of the noise they make. Instead, one is forced to conclude that there are few more startling sounds than that of Steve Albini producing a band in which Steve Albini plays. Of course, having the best rhythm section in the world helps. Trainer even sings on a couple of tracks, while Weston‘s scything bass is all-pervasively brutal.
As a group whose anti-heroic ethos rejects the music industry’s avaricious impulses, [a]Shellac[/a]’s presence will always be elusive to an extent. In the context of The New Nice consensus, however, their alternative perspective is more efficacious than ever. Albini himself says it best: [I]”This isn’t some kinda metaphor/Goddamn! This is REAL!”[/I] Because sometimes it needs to be. Because the truth fucking hurts.