The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast
t’s far easier to reel off a list of Matmos concepts than it is to hum one of their tunes. M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel combine waggishness, an incredible knowledge of pop culture, and highbrow aesthetics in such a way that it never approaches what one would normally call pop music. And that’s what turns people off so quickly: anyone reading about their choice of instruments could dismiss the whole thing as “wacky” or “brainy.” Their newest album, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast, is a collection of audio biographies of some of their heroes and it isn’t out to win over any moderates; it’s both business as usual and their most complex set of ideas to date.
Unlike many monochrome theorists, Matmos have never turned their back on either humour or melody. The music never ends up lost up its own arse; it does end up inside a cow’s reproductive organs though. So as well as having ten (or eleven if you are a Japanese bonus-track collector) songs to enjoy on a musical level, The Rose has backstories and sound puzzles to explore. Surely a far more interesting way to spend some library/Internet time than discussing which famous lady Mike Skinner slept with.
Even when it looks as if a song like “Rag for William S. Burroughs” is about to wander off into the abstracts of typewriter sounds, it becomes part of an elegantly and precise transformation. Moving from typing into an extended passage of native Moroccan percussion isn’t easy thing to do at all, and it’s even harder to do well. But what makes the track doubly amazing is that it also succeeds, like so many moments on this record, in describing an integral part of a life that would normally take 400 words to do so in print—they’ve hit upon perfect musical shorthand. This is the genius of The Rose : instead of being necessary context, the backstory only deepens the enjoyment of the already satisfying music.
The listener doesn’t really need to know the reasons behind the use of sounds like scissor snips, man-on-man love, or cigarettes on human flesh. If someone wants to take the songs at face value, they won’t be disappointed. There are melodies, sharp turns, great beats, wide-open spaces, and curio moments to keep the uninterested wrapped up in nothing more than the sound. But if he/she isn’t interested in knowing who Larry Levan is, or why his tribute starts like classic disco only to deviate into more disorienting territory, it’s no big deal. It’s a bloody great shame that you know such uninteresting zombies… but it’s no big deal.
Matmos have often heard the criticism that behind all the ideas and experiments that they rarely show any real ability in conveying emotion. Anyone who claims that hasn’t listened to a song like “Solo Buttons for Joe Meek,” which ends with a dark and ill alleyway piece of orchestral finality, summing up Meek’s suicidal end. Even without knowing of Meek’s tragic decision, the notes carry enough weight to signal that something isn’t right. And while Matmos have been doing that sort of thing on-and-off for years now (e.g. “For Felix (And All the Rats)”), The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast finds them doing it all the way through its ten killer eclectic songs.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2006-05-09