One gets the feeling that if Bill Callahan hadn’t spent the last decade devoting himself to the tireless possibilities of scowling lo-fi, he would have been a very dangerous lunatic. His pessimism is relentless, his distaste for humanity explicit, and his wit as dry as a pharaoh’s fingernail. There are no children’s choirs on this, the tenth [a]Smog[/a] LP, as there were on last year’s ‘Knock Knock’. But there is a seven-minute ode to the cut-throat, with cheerleaders chanting ‘b-l-o-o-d-f-l-o-w’. Callahan rhymes “tjte-`-tite” with “machete”, and final track ‘Permanent Smile’ is all about how friendly he’ll look in the grave once his face has rotted off. It’s quite a party.
Callahan is the deadpan Wednesday Addams of alt-rock, lips curled with delight as he burns the hapless bit-part players in his fictionalised autobiography – friends, lovers, even himself – to cinders with a magnifying glass. He’s the grinning gravedigger, the singing mortician. He isn’t, however, the misanthrope his early records would have us believe. As his musical repertoire has expanded from minimalist folk to occasionally playful pop, so has his tolerance for the foibles of the flesh. ‘Dongs Of Sevotion’, from its silly title to its intermittent flashes of tenderness and humour, is the proof.
and publicly recall all the places they had sex when it comes time to despatch his corpse. With an irresistible Velvet Underground chug and a crowning chorus of falsetto sighs, it’s the warmest, funniest and most blatantly sensual song he’s recorded. ‘Bloodflow’, meanwhile, picks one of his favourite themes – the ruthless, animalistic side of human nature – and punctures its gruesome cynicism with the spaghetti-western [I]boing [/I]of a jew’s-harp and a league of cheerleaders.
Elsewhere, of course, there’s the characteristic [a]Smog[/a] malevolence. A piano chatters like teeth in ‘Cold Discovery’, as Callahan intones, “I can hold a woman down on a hardwood floor”, and the halting ‘Strayed’ outlines the ways in which he’s been unfaithful without a hint of apology.
Musically, ‘Dongs…’ is less audacious than ‘Knock Knock’– despite the pulsing synth of ‘Justice Aversion’ and deconstructed metal of ‘The Hard Road’. Not that it matters, for it’s Callahan‘s lyrics that stake their chilling claim in your memory. They laugh in the face of death. They unfold like a scenic vista pockmarked by belching factories. The world is wonderful and terrifying, beautiful and malicious. It’s all the better, and worse, for having [a]Smog[/a] in it.