, November 4th, 2013 12:34
"I do not literally mean everything I say in my songs. Most of it is irony. I'm singing the opposite." See, I like this quote from Ben Wallers, vocalist for The Devil, offered in an interview last year. In spite of being a highly verbose and evidently self-aware man, he's gone for just about the most basic refutation of hatefulness possible (short of "fuck you, deal with it" or similar). There are myriad ways one could return fire at Wallers, if they were so inclined, but he's been releasing music since 1995, and answering questions about what the deal is with his lyrical content pretty much that whole time. At a guess, he knows where he stands at this point without the need to explain himself into knots, and so do the people who listen to his records.
The Devil is the first release by The Devil, a trio who have apparently existed for a decade but until now had only played a handful of gigs. Wallers' reputation was built on the Country Teasers, a band who formed in Scotland and found an early, moderately unlikely home on US label Crypt among scads of high-octane garage punk bands. As willfully indirect as The Fall (a consistent, unavoidable comparison), Pussy Galore or Royal Trux, they've been largely inactive in recent years; until now, Wallers has channeled his grotesque margin sketches via The Rebel, a solo project that's a bit more electronic and even less tailored towards 'an audience'. To suggest The Devil may contain his most orthodox 'rock' moments is not to insinuate The Devil is full of such things.
The rockist burliness on display here may be as attributable to the other two Devils, if not more so. James Sedwards can be found playing guitar in Oxford avant-rock combo Nought, who also emerged in the mid-90s and who are idly suffixed "John Peel favourites" by people like me to this day. Sophie Politowicz has played in the Country Teasers and Wet Dog, a postpunk-styled band who were so angular, their first album came out on Angular Records. She's also married to Wallers, although I don't know what kind of prick you think I am if you're expecting some sort of Linda McCartney reference to come next. The Devil sound far more attuned to each other than the Teasers ever did – not surprising, given the instability of the Teasers' lineup – and, on 'Silent Roar', have devised one of the earwormiest riffs I've encountered in 2013. A rubber-gloved poke around the heart of masculinity ("Can you ignore / The silent roar / Your penis makes on the dancefloor"), it has Cramps rockabilly jitter, Killdozer's inverse romance and, possibly less expectedly, a crypto-pop feel that fans of, say, Future Of The Left might dig.
Of the other six songs on The Devil, two have discernible lyrics, and one of those runs to six words. "What is it? What is it?" begs Wallers incessantly on 'The Throne', ur-rock which rocks like a more pencil-necked AC/DC, or if you'd rather stay shackled in the indie ghetto, like Tar or Shellac. (If you printed out one typically be-hatted live photo each of Wallers and Steve Albini, and ran them through the work photocopier, it would take about eight copies before they were indistinguishable from one another.) When he eventually reveals, "it's a CHAIR!" it makes it sound only slightly less like he's talking to a puppy.
Aside from that, you have 'My First Waltz', which opens the album in a flurry of Duane Denison-worthy attack-dog guitar and wordless, mixed-low moans; 'Agatha Christie', which is slow and reverb-sodden and probably not the least accurate thing to ever be called "Lynchian"; 'Michael And Jean', another austere Shellacian plod (a good plod, but still a plod) lent dubious novelty value by muffled helium vocals; and 'So Cool', whose daunting ten-minute length is belied by the fact it effectively turns into another song halfway through. You also have 'Girls Want You'. This is a cover of an obscure Kool Keith track, performed in the arid blues style of Ry Cooder, and as interpolations go, it's a fairly remarkable display of lateral thinking.
Wallers' love of rap is well documented, mainly because it gets brought up in nearly every interview he does. He seems to have acquired this status akin to an underground rock version of, say, John Cale or most recently the Arctic Monkeys, where an enthusiasm for some fairly canon picks from the genre is seen as inherently fascinating. Rock artists – superstars, no-marks, those in between – actually covering hip-hop songs is another matter. The utter awfulness of most efforts in this field (Ben Folds' 'Bitches Ain't Shit', someone from Veruca Salt doing 'Straight Outta Compton', some Radio 1 Live Lounge things I don't actually want to think about) has a signal-to-noise effect, I think: it's largely still seen as an unbridgeable chasm.
This didn't stop Country Teasers covering Ice Cube's 'We Had To Tear This Motherfucker Up' many moons ago, albeit in virtually unlistenable fashion. While 'Girls Want You' is a different kettle of unease, it is plausible that Wallers solemnly intoning, "You gotta pull your dick out at the restaurant in front of they aunt / And jerk off with your balls smackin' the windows of the Mitsubishi Galant," will not bear repeated listening for everybody. As rap-to-rock covers go, it's judiciously chosen, in that to take its misogyny seriously you have to engage with someone asserting, "All freaks love to smell your scrotum," and if it's appropriative… well, anyone who isn't Kool Keith might be surprised to learn that "decorat[ing] your nuts with Cap'n Crunch" is a racially specific act.
Another quote I like is from a Stewart Lee standup show I saw about six weeks ago: "We all thought the racism was ironic, like Ricky Gervais, but it turned out to be genuine. Like Ricky Gervais." That's the same Stewart Lee who wrote, "For two decades Ben Wallers has been head-butting hotspots of race and gender," in a Sunday broadsheet review of this album which narrowly beat this one to publication, but is far shorter. Now it is me who has explained myself into knots. Ahhhhhh.