The Album List: #65 Big Black “Songs About F***ing”


Steve Albini is afraid of girls.

Girls, however, love Steve Albini and Big Black.

Well, this one does, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Albini is known now as a confrontational ass and a “music producer” * of note ( he has worked on albums for Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Helmet, Manic Street Preachers, Jarvis Cocker, The Wedding Present, and, most astonishingly, Joanna Newsom). He also still has a band, Shellac, and writes for various zines around the world. An outspoken proponent of analog recording and indie aesthetics, he is a divisive figure in music, where shiny and digital are now the norm.

Big Black were loud, fast, angry, and surprisingly melodic under the Ramones meets Motorhead music that came out of the two albums they produced.  They seem to be forgotten now by the larger musical community. I came across my copy of the album, purely by accident, in some seedy second-hand store in Edmonton, Alberta. I hadn’t heard of Big Black at the time, but the cover art was striking, the album’s title was comically on point, and I did know Steve Albini’s name.

I mean, how does one not buy an album with a title as perfect as Songs About Fucking? Really?
It’s a “wham-bam-thank you ma’am” album, full of quick, loud, fast bursts of noise. There was no drummer, just a drum machine that sometimes sounded like it had more soul than a real drummer would. Albini was a fearless lyricist, and songs about misogyny, rape, child abuse, drug cartel executions, and Kraftwerk and Cheap Trick covers create the base of the band’s records. The album isn’t really about sex so much everything that replaces it for those who don’t have it. It’s ferocious, bold, and offensive.

The guitars themselves are almost perfection, as Albini and Santiago Durango played with double notched metallic picks that created the band’s signature clang.  AllMusic’s Andy Kellerman called the music “yowl, ching, thump-thump-screech”, and this came completely from the guitars ( well, the drum machine helped, I’m not denying that).  This album influenced Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and Nine Inch Nails, I don’t care what anyone says. Big Black were not punk rock, but the beginning  of modern industrial.

They sound completely mental when I read reviews of their live shows, where Albini’s “I Don’t Give a Fuck” attitude would only aggravate his audience, counting off songs with “One, two, fuck you”, exploding firecrackers, and often playing the guitar so furiously he’d draw blood from his hands.  Considering Albini’s continued angry persona, this wasn’t an act, but just Albini being Albini. It matched the noise perfectly.

The two covers on the album are so wildly opposite each other and the band’s original sound that it boggles the mind. First off, Kraftwerk is never meant to be covered because the band’s style and playing is so specific, it never sounds good. So if you Steve Albini, you just go ahead and do a thrash metal version of “The Model” that kicks ass. The Cheap Trick cover is also mind blowingly good, for even under the feedback, you can hear the pop melody. Albini growls off-key through out “He’s A Whore”. It seems proper, somehow.

Mostly, this album just feels like a very unpleasant home for me. It’s representative of how discordant my life felt ( and continues to feel).  The album is aspirational- shake off the expectations of society, create what you want to create. Albini has continued to live by his own rules.  Maybe everyone should own this record to aspire to do that themselves.

Of course, since Albini can be such an asshole, and many of us are simpering, snivelling peacemakers who want everyone to like them, I think he’ll be the only successful one of the bunch.

*Albini hates the term record producer, and often doesn’t take credit for his work on albums. He really is all about the music.
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