Mission Of Burma
have the dubious distinction of being the first reviewer of ONoffON that I know of to not have a history of some sort with Mission Of Burma. I’d heard about them for years, and the two songs I’d encountered (“That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” and “Academy Fight Song”, naturally), while pleasant enough, didn’t spur me any further. So you’ve been warned; if you still clutch your old copy of Signals, Calls And Marches to yourself each night while you fall asleep, I have no idea what you’re on about and after living with ONoffON for a while I have little sympathy for you. Go find one of the (numerous) reviews where some old fan waxes rhapsodic about how Burma is back, as good as always, etc, etc.
Because on evidence of this album, no matter how groundbreaking or amazing Mission Of Burma have been in the past (and I’m fully willing to give credence to those claims), they are now painfully average. The songs here aren’t bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but the intelligence and fire I keep hearing about is not nearly as thick on the ground as their fans seem to think.
As you can tell by the rating above, I don’t really have anything against the band themselves or their music; this is a decent album, and the best tracks here (especially the stretch from “Hunt Again” through to “What We Really Were”) form a solid core of good material. But at sixteen songs, fifty-three minutes and very little variety (oh great, “Prepared” and “Falling” are slightly quieter than everything else), Burma’s welcome gets worn out significantly before they take their leave. I kept hoping for something new, or at least weird (Bob Weston may have taken over from Martin Swope as tape manipulator, but for most of the record he might as well not be there). Instead I got an album that is decent, boasts 5-6 songs I really like and a bunch I can’t muster any strong feelings for either way.
Instead you get Roger Miller playing what sounds like the same guitar part for most of the songs, and Clint Conley sounding bizarrely like Robert Pollard (well, the other way around), especially on “Hunt Again”, which could be an Isolation Drills b-side. And although much of ONoffON sounds like it’s trying to come across as angry or at least aggressive, it only occasionally succeeds, most notably on Peter Prescott’s “The Enthusiast” and “Fake Blood” and Miller’s “Wounded World”.
It’s not terribly fair to Burma, but the band that keeps leaping into my mind as a comparison is Wire. Although both bands came back from lengthy breaks with reputations intact, Wire kept themselves busy during the intervening years and kept moving forward, while Mission Of Burma appears dead set on making pretty conventional rock music. As a result, the Read & Burn EPs were one of the most exciting things released that year, while ONoffON is a treat for the converted and little else.
Maybe if this album had been released in the mid-eighties I’d be falling all over myself to praise it, but these days there’s just too much stuff around that’s surpassed the music here in originality, drive and smarts. It’s to Mission Of Burma’s credit that much of that music was made under their influence, but that doesn’t elevate this album above the merely competent rock effort it is.