Monday, February 19, 2007

Killing Joke - Killing Joke (1980)

The other day, my friend Mark decided to mess with my head. (As most of you know, this is pretty easy when it comes to your humble reviewer, but apparently still provides infinite amusment to most of you.) He was playing songs off an unidentified CD, and I was stumped. It was doubly annoying because all the songs were great – how had I not heard this album? Finally he played “Wardance,” which I knew – but of course, due to a limited intellect, I still failed to identify the band. Turns out it was Killing Joke, from their self-titled 1980 album. So I went out and got it for myself.

Upon listening, it’s clear that this album isn’t good – it’s great. They have a deceivingly uncomplicated sound, highlighted by getting more out of monotonal guitar sounds than any band since The Smithereens. Unlike The Smithereens, they use the guitar as a texture, which they layer the other instruments and vocals around – a more appropriate comparison would be to Wire’s album Send. The rhythm section is great – the bass in particular is really key in moving the songs forward, taking advantage of the uncomplicated sound (I keep wanting to say “simple,” but “uncomplicated” describes it better). There is underlying synth throughout the album, giving this away as 1980 – but it could just as easily have been released in 1995.

The original album contained 8 songs, which was re-released in 2005 with five additional tracks (one additional song and four remixes/rough mixes). These extras are really only of interest to KJ diehards or someone (like Mark) who’s been listening to the album forever – the original album is very tight at eight songs and should be listened to that way.

Song highlights include “Requiem,” which is a great opening number; “Wardance,” which I always found very odd as a single but makes a lot more sense in the context of the album; and “Complications,” which I’ve been playing at volumes high enough to knock the snow off my roof.

Mark rightly points out that “you have to be in the right mood” to listen to this album. It is a little dark and dour in tone. It will probably scare Mark to know that I am normally in this mood. I’d recommend it for any setting personally, but at the least it’s a great album to drive to, play video games with, or drink heavily to. (We’re very thorough in testing albums out here at The Snilch Report.)

Merch Rating: Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply neatly here. Mark spoiled this by telling me this is the only KJ album worth getting (and he’s gotten most of them), so that kind of defeats the rating, eh? So instead we will introduce….

The CD Placement Rating. Yes, I am a geek. When I listen to an album and it’s good, I take it and give it a home in my CD rack. If it’s really good, I place it into my hardcase portable CD holder – these are albums I need to listen to more before sending them to the rack, and are a cut above. The best of these make it into my car CD player, which holds 12 discs. These are my favorite albums from the past two years.

On the other hand, albums that I recognize as decent but will never listen to again, as well as albums that are simply bad, go into one of two sell-back piles. One pile is for those that have a song or two worth listening to, which I’ll cobble onto one of my $15 Song CD’s. The other pile is for the complete mistakes and utterly worthless discs, that don’t have even a redeeming song on them and I won’t even keep as a coaster. (I think I’ll be reviewing one of these soon.)

Final verdict: Killing Joke ended up in the car CD player – I absolutely love it. Thanks Mark for recommending it, then hitting my website 700 times. (Andrew’s 3000-odd hits has him beat here, but it’s still impressive.) Highly highly recommended, go out and buy it now.