The Deadly Snakes
ike so many blues records, it starts with debt. “I was poring over papers in the first month of the year,” growls Andre Ethier. “I held it out before me, and yet it struck me queer / For it had been, that all my debt had grown.” Well ain't that the truth. This is modern, middle-class American (or, in this case, Canadian) debt—not exactly the life-long poverty of a sharecropper, for instance—but we're all in debt up to our eyes these days, now ain't we? So here's a question: where is the blues in new records? I don't mean “the Blues,” the genre classification, because you won't find much of that here; I mean “the blues,” the reflections of everyday sadness, whether soggy ballad or rage-aholic stomp. I look around, and with the exception of the occasional hip-hop record, and maybe Steve Earle or The Boss, all I hear is escape, or salvation, or delirium, or any sadness that pours forth is of is of the personal/abstracted sort that could be about fucking anything (all groups constitute both my favorite records, and the ones I couldn't care less about). So ladies and gentlemen, the Deadly Snakes.
You may remember their Ode To Joy from a few years ago (and if you don't, it sucks to be you), a hard-driving distorto-blues hot-coal walk, as short as it was sweet, just like the two albums that preceded it. It was just what it claimed to be. Now here they are, album four, and the joy is dissipated, spread out over wider swaths of space, and sprinkled lightly over the sort of mundane darkness that seems lost to some more innocent time (as if we're all less clueless now). On “Work,” with its stomping, found-caveman percussion, a man who calls himself Age Of Danger (his real name is Max) croons “The roof of your house is the bottom of the sky / But the house that you built sits in front of the one behind / So why build another one?” It's a particularly nice bit of anti-suburban fist-shaking, but that kicker is in the wide open spaces. The tag-team vocalists spend a lot of time in dreamy, open spaces—the sky; the vast; open sea—and a lot more in small rooms. “What am I for / If not to paint the walls with blood?” says Max on “Gore Veil.” Debt, money, sadness, mortality, decay. The usual shit. Old-timey metaphors and symbolism. Why did people stop doing this again? It still works a treat, when done by pros.
And pros these guys assuredly are. The musicianship here is top-notch, and Dangermax's reedy nasality makes a great compliment to Andre's soul-growl. Of course, this is album number four, so in come the strings; judiciously and rarely, they're representative of all the new colors—horns, pianos, found junk—that make up a good preponderance of the record. “200 Nautical Miles” true to its name, builds a shanty with a Dramamine sway out of their new string section, as Max, Man Of Action squeaks about young seafaring dreams—oh, the lure of the open water—as the adult whose dreams have long-since been hidden away in his head. Melodies plonk by on the back of a lilting flute, as in “Gore Veil,” or a toy piano, as on “High Prices Going Down.” The former hosts both their sweetest melody—Sousa trumpets wrapped tightly around that dainty little flute—and their darkest, most death-obsessed lyrics. There's a lull at the middle-end where they throw in some faintly unmemorable b-side material (“So Young and So Cruel”), because maybe you're not paying attention, but there's so much lavish, swooning creativity here that it's even worth the slog to get to the requisite we're-all-gonna-die-but-it'll-be-OK waltz at the end. It sounds like an experiment on their part, and it surely is, but they rarely lose sight of what made them an exciting prospect in the first place, and more importantly, never forfeit the blues, and it's really about time.
Reviewed by: Jeff Siegel
Reviewed on: 2005-10-10