Secret Album 1
A lopsided frantic drumbeat followed by a hurried fill brings in a strange flapping scalene bass melody. It comes seemingly from a brooding sky. A guitar cuts in, arpeggiating on two strings in a dumb angular primitive way. The voice starts, a crooner in some dripping concrete basement intoning news of a cataclysm. Things are crashing, or at least racing into chaos. It is already frightening. Family pets are distressed, you don’t really like this dim, echoing cathedral of disquiet.
But you venture further in and though things warp, slow down – the atmosphere of doom is relentless. The metal guitar alternates between melody, crunch and a sort of ratcheting, like something with steel teeth being cranked. There are hints of narrative – empty cars, everything abandoned: where will it end? The singer modulates up an octave. He seems desperately scared. Is this entertainment?
The drums are in the wrong room, it’s not a place for music. You see a black warehouse in your mind, hear elevators hauled on frayed cables. All the players sound as though they are in different parts of this terrible place. Dim flat light shows their dead features, they are staring. The music turns sad, a bassline descends through a beautiful succession of notes. The voice is suddenly vulnerable, boyish and forlorn. Where are you being taken by these people? The background ambience of the music keeps pulling you through the record into a world that sounds unwell, sluggish and and frozen.
The first side ends with a melodrama. This might be the show-stopper, a power ballad but sick inside, everything running a fever. But before you can compute, the second side changes tack. The music gets very peculiar – you want to burst out laughing: it is all wobbling on the edge of hysteria. But it has a febrile tension and you suddenly want to dance, or at least vibrate. The drums seem to be in the lift-shaft imbibing helium, the guitar appears to be writhing in a sack. The bassline is deranged, the singer is sleepwalking through his recurring nightmare.
You are beginning to know this world. You can explore its cavernous spaces, you can look around. Keening guitar solos break out and bounce off the concrete ceiling, the grimy bass pumps thuggishly. The crooner is back, sometimes Iggy other times a sort of bilious Sinatra. There is a hint of degeneracy, sadism. The guitar is so heavy with fog and grime that it seems to be trying to punish something.
You watch the needle drift into the penultimate track. There are strong elements of punk now but it’s not angry or disgusted. It’s rancid and ominous.
You are glad to reach the end. You are mesmerised but it is overwhelming you. The last drumbeat strikes up. Something smashes in one ear, the brooding hum of an empty factory quivers through the floor and the smashing comes again. The music is slithering like an assassin through the trees. Violence is broached. You are being led to a poisonous end. It is devastation.