Sunday, April 15, 2007
Drag City Reissues 1979 Red Crayola Album
Drag City has reissued Soldier-Talk, the 1979 Red Crayola LP that appeared on Radar. The Red Crayola, by 1979, were reduced to two members, with Thompson's tremulous warble and spasms of thin, ear-piercing guitar held together by Jesse Chamberlain's clattering drums; some of Soldier-Talk is just the duo building up friction-heat. Still, all of the then-current lineup of Pere Ubu shows up on most of the album, too (along with Lora Logic, whose inimitable out-of-tune sax can be heard here and there). It's difficult to tell if David Thomas, squeaking out a parody of military chants in the background of "Soldier-Talk" and sarcastically parroting Thompson on "Discipline", is chafing at being somebody else's sideman or getting into it. Later that year, guitarist Tom Herman left Ubu and Thompson replaced him, which effectively makes Soldier-Talk the misshapen missing link between Ubu's New Picnic Time and The Art of Walking.
But this isn't a Pere Ubu record, it's a Red Crayola record, and in 1979, that meant as much pain as they could get away with inflicting. Thompson's a charismatic vocalist, but he's possibly the least naturally gifted singer to have attempted to perform vocal melodies for anywhere near this long (I mean, Mark E. Smith can at least sing sort of on pitch sometimes), or at any rate the most invested in displaying his voice's cracks and fumbles. His guitar is set for maximal nails-on-chalkboard trebliness-- "On the Brink" has a great little one-finger riff, but it's hard to listen to it without wincing-- and, in accordance with the album's martial theme, Chamberlain limits most of his drum parts to modified military tattoos and snare-snaps.
Then there's the matter of Thompson's lyrics, which are doggedly mock-academic: "The problem of discourse is problematic/ I insist in this respect on being most emphatic." It's a consistently interesting album-- there's something trying to get your attention at every moment, but in the manner of a beloved little sibling who won't stop poking you. (When a band calls a song "Uh, Knowledge Dance", it's clear that "dance" will be the least important of those three words.) Thompson was pretty obviously fascinated with the possibilities of abrasion and intellectual content in rock songs that punk and post-punk opened up, and the next time he convened the Red Crayola, for 1981's excellent Kangaroo? album and "Born in Flames" single, he'd figured out how pleasure in listening could be a part of the equation too. This one, though, is for people who find Gang of Four's Entertainment! excessively silky and bourgeois.
Posted by Kiloh Smith at 3:21 AM