WHAT Big Black - Kerosene
WHEN Leicester - Autumn 1989
Like Hüsker Dü, this was a sound in my head that existed before I heard their records. And it’s not a very nice sound.
Big Black are the stripped head on a musical screw when everything has been wound too tight. Dense, claustrophobic and aggressive, Big Black’s purpose is to make you feel uncomfortable. They’re the over-amplified sound of nails running down a blackboard. This felt like the sound in my head.
No one - I mean, NO ONE - makes a guitar sound like Steve Albini. The best description for “Kerosene” is that it sounds like he’s playing broken glass. It clangs away destroying the upper end of your hearing before pummelling you with industrial distortion. Combined with the group’s use of a primitive drum machine, their songs have an unrelenting, jackhammer ferocity. This is music that dominates the listener. It doesn’t want dialogue. It wants submission.
"There's kerosene around, she's something to do
There's kerosene around, find something to do
There's kerosene around, she's something to do
Kerosene around, set me on fire"
“Kerosene” is about twice as long as any other Big Black song but still only has 40 unique words. Even The Beatles’ “She Loves You” has 57 unique words. Big Black are the Masters of Terse. They say blunt things bluntly (and I guess if you’re calling your album “Songs About Fucking” you’ve made the headline all about cutting to the chase).
The original sleeve notes to “Kerosene” read: “In small towns, there are few forms of amusement. Two prominent ones are easy sex and arson. When simple exercises lose their bang, new combinations develop”. Most of their lyrics are cold, observational statements on what passes for normal off Main Street but I don’t think that they’re as amoral as some folk think. The disgust in "Jordan, Minnesota" or “Bad Penny” is vivid and pointed. And yet behind the battering ram, “Kerosene” has a singalong riptide hook as it bulldozers its way into the chorus. It's a pop song’s DNA. It’s just one that’s been cruelly modified by locking it in a cellar with a cocktail of steroids, meth and disappointment.
As their t-shirt used to say: “From Chicago’s Finest Forges, Power Where You Need It”. Breathtaking stuff. Still.