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Black Sky Thinking

And You Will Know Us By Our Excellent New Album: Trail Of Dead Rock
Stephen Burkett , March 3rd, 2009 07:56

Don't like Trail of Dead? Fuck you buddy! is Stephen Burkett's considered response.

The cover of the new ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead album is drawn entirely in that most lavish and ostentatious of media, ball-point pen. Considering their venomous parting shot to Interscope in 2007 mentioned their time spent “yell[ing] at idiots running an art department” during their six years on said major label it’s no coincidence they settled on this pared-down vision for The Century Of Self, but the most obvious conclusion is that, after the firestorm of hype that ended up cremating Worlds Apart and So Divided, they’re back to the brutal, beautiful simplicity of their most celebrated work, 2002’s Source Tags And Codes.

Really, though, they never stood a chance. Mistakes And Regrets, which came out in 2000 and launched Trail into the subcultural consciousness at large, was the last moment they were able to stand solely on the merits of their music alone, rather than behind the heft of a mighty music machine. And it wasn’t simply the label that helped to whip up the hype, the perfect score bestowed by Pitchfork on _Source... can’t have helped either. And once perfection has been achieved there isn’t much left to achieve, right? Surely it was inevitable less and less attention would be paid in the wake of them being made the new darlings of noise?

Granted, the two albums that followed Source... weren’t as good but they certainly weren’t so bad as to leave Trail fighting for their lives in 2009. Look at Trail’s 2002 contemporaries and the hyperbole that followed them – a group of bands who were so lauded by every supposed tastemaker desperate not to be left behind who wanted to try and leech as much as they could from this scene created solely to increase the flow of cocaine up the noses of a few hundred privileged journalists, label bosses, promoters and whoever else wanted to feel good about themselves for a few months. And regardless of quality, The Datsuns’ Outta Sight/Outta Mind’ The D4’s Out Of My Head, The Von Bondies Pawn Shoppe Heart, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Take Them On, On Your Own among others were all routinely ignored. The fact they were all roundly shit didn’t help but the point is that they never stood a chance.

Hell, even The Strokes, those none-more-revered yet none-more-vacuous scene leaders’ second album, Room On Fire would never be given the attention its predecessor was (but then again, that could be because the music-buying public at large thought to itself, ‘Fuck those rich boys: their debut was shit and there’s no way I’m buying into that pile of crap again, no matter which Z-list celebrity one of them’s plugging’. For once, The Quietus applauds the Music-Buying Public At Large).

Confusingly it was Kings Of Leon who fought their way out of this clusterfuck scrum – perhaps because Only By The Night was a major departure for them, in that it contained more than two and a half listenable songs and didn’t sound like it was recorded in a barn with a family of pigs giving birth to another family of pigs next door. They’ve had a success that’s massively against the odds, not just because they’ve enjoyed success at all but because of the gargantuan scale of it. Again, back to Casablancas and co: how many major festivals did they headline in total? And how many did the Kings headline last year?

It helps that The Century Of Self is an effortlessly stunning record, a monolithic ode to the greatness of melody and the majesty of noise. But it took for them to leave Interscope and make an album that’s _so_ brilliant for them to be considered great again. Anything less would have been seen as yet another failure; ridiculous, when you consider a bad Trail album is leagues ahead of most bands’ good albums.

And just like its cover, The Century Of Self isn’t lavish or ostentatious: it’s textured, layered and richly rewarding, and certainly one of Trail’s finest complete works. But it isn’t a return to form because they never really lost it.

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