Album six (or five if we’re discounting the pals-only, super-limited ‘The Futurist’) from the Chicago “minimalist rock” trio of Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer arrives just the seven years after their fifth (or fourth), ‘Excellent Italian Greyhound’, beat down ear drums as a reminder that there’s a way to do this sort of thing right, and a million ways not to.
That’s what Shellac do: every now and then, when shit’s got out of hand, they pull together and put out an LP to remind anyone else about to pick up a guitar, thump a bass or smack a drum: goddamn, this is real. The way to do it: tight and dramatic; serious but shot through with wicked humour; sprawling and detailed but considered and concise, not a note too many or a riff too few.
From the twisting opening of the title track onwards, anyone with previous experience of Shellac is in no doubt as to the makers of this racket – their primary characteristics are not front-page splashes, headline-generating wackiness, but expert musicianship honed over 22 years of togetherness, and more. Albini might be best known as a producer and engineer by the many, but he’s been in bands since his teens. This man can play, and this man can slay, his guitar tone alone inimitable before we’ve even got to his barbed lyricism, which hasn’t dulled at all.
Shellac has never been the Steve Albini Show, despite his most vocal of presences – Trainer is the kind of drummer whose playing would be recognisable amid a field of thousands, economic but as turbulent as it needs to be when the songs get hectic, as on ‘You Came In Me’, and the dizzy first minute of ‘The People’s Microphone’. Weston, too, is easily picked out amongst his peers – precise and pointed, his contributions exist both behind the work of his colleagues and the spaces between it. Everything, then, is in its right place – as it should be, as we’ve come to expect.
Which is, perhaps, the sole criticism of ‘Dude Incredible’ – it’s of the quality this band has come to stand for this many albums in. It doesn’t challenge expectation, but equally it does nothing, puts nary a single step wrong, to risk their reputation as a preeminent act of their kind, and of our times. Albini might be a proficient poker player, but he’s not about to gamble on Shellac’s strengths by taking them beyond an established discomfort zone.
If you’ve been buying Shellac LPs a while, you’ve already got ‘Dude Incredible’. If not, maybe this isn’t the ‘easiest’ introduction to the band’s catalogue – I’d suggest their foundations-laying 1994 debut ‘At Action Park’ or the visceral thrills of 2000’s ‘1000 Hurts’. Actually, just buy the lot. You’ll thank me later when you, too, feel this incredible, dude.
Words: Mike Diver
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