Shellac – To All Trains

Beat-em-up mutant rock...

‘To All Trains’ is the swansong of Steve Albini: The Musician, the final word on the muscular, misanthropic brand of rock music that he purveyed for so long. 

The fact that Shellac remained – and it pains me to use the past tense – such an incredible force for thirty years is astonishing. The new record is the result of three dudes, pushing three-score, getting together once or twice per year to play some tunes, and drink some beers. And yet they remained the most absolute dependable rock band, every record a real 8 outta 10 post-hardcore guitar ritual, always hitting the right spot. Nothing like a box of chocolates, you know exactly what you’ll get, and it will be a cold, bold high water mark for rock music.

Shellac, across 28 minutes of beat-em-up mutant rock, are on fire here, the six-legged noise beast dependable as ever. ‘To All Trains’ showcases a rock band who get every single thing about being a rock band absolutely correct. Drums a colossus, wriggling, writhing basslines, and guitar licks that sound like ghosts in the mains power supply. The last 30 seconds of ‘WSOD’ testament to this, as the guitars and bass deviate from megalithic riffing to frenzied mania, a real musical catharsis that sets the tone for the rest of this brilliant record.

Albini’s lyrics are sharp, delivered in his trademark Ugly American Midwest sprechstimme. ‘Scrappers’ is a romantic let’s-get-outta-here-and-live-off-the-fatta-the-lan’ song, Albini barking “we’ll be pirates!” over the top of searing guitar licks and cast iron skronk. Meanwhile ‘Scabby the Rat’ is a vigorous, loving celebration of Scabby, an inflatable rat mascot regularly seen around Chicago at strikes and demonstrations, Albini keeping it real to the very last. 

It is final track that leaves the greatest mark – Shellac signing off, one of the best rock bands of the last thirty years. Bloodied riffs and scrambled percussion lay the foundation for Albini’s final refrain, prescient in a way you just know he’d have hated to sign off on; “When this is over, I’ll leap into my grave like the arms of a lover / If there’s a heaven, I hope they’re having fun, and if there’s a Hell, I’ll know everyone”. Vale, Steve Albini, vale. 

9/10

Words: Cal Cashin

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