So right now is actually the perfect time for me to be reviewing the new Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats album, because I just finished reading Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. It’s a rather famous true crime book, but for those of you who don’t know, it’s the story of the investigation and trial of Charles Manson and members of his “Family” following their brutal murder of 7 people on two infamous nights way back in August 1969. If you’re not already somewhat familiar with the story – and you probably are – you can get yourself started here:
It was a good book, and deals with a couple of topics that I’ve always found interesting: the capacity of humans for extreme cases of evil and brutality, and the dark backlash following the too-good-to-be-true naivete of the hippie movement. There are indicators of this backlash falling on the broader, cultural spectrum – not just Charlie Manson, but Kent State, Vietman, etc. – but what always interested me the most were the forms it took which were specifically musical. The White Album, We’re Only in it for the Money, the first few Sabbath albums, and of course the deaths of Hendrix, Morrison, and Joplin – all harrowing indications that the flowers had all withered and died, that there was something rotten in the state of Haight-Ashbury, and that too much acid had turned the rainbows into…ummm…..demon rainbows.
Yet as closely related as these musical death knells were to social/cultural phenomena such as the Manson murders, never has there been a band so directly invested in a single instance of historical insanity than Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats seem to be with old Charlie’s Helter Skelter, and its rather bloody repercussions. Right off the bat you’ve got their name: Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats. Charlie and the Family. It’s a dead ringer! Or how about some song titles from their last couple of albums:
- “I’m Here to Kill You”
- “Ritual Knife”
- “Over and Over”
- “Death Valley Blues”
- “Desert Ceremony”
- “Follow the Leader”
- “Valley of the Dolls”
Charlie and the Family lived in Death Valley, performed ceremonies in the desert in which the Family followed the leader (Charlie), who ultimately ordered them to stab the pregnant lead actress of Valley of the Dolls with a [ritual] knife, over and over, etc. etc. etc. You can basically string the song titles together and form a pretty coherent summary of the whole thing. Oh and they also released a Christmas song under the alias “The Sharon Tate Experience” (Tate being said stabbed actress). So yeah. Uncle Acid’s got a serious Charlie trip going.
Of course, the whole thing is a bit silly, and I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be, in the sense that these guys probably worship Charles Manson about as earnestly as Ghost worships Satan (i. e. they don’t). Nor do I think that it is any “serious” or “academic” interest that drives them, in the same way that a sociology professor might approach such a case. Simply put, it’s an aesthetic thing. And I know that might sound a bit trivializing, because it means that less is actually at stake than if these guys were copycat killers, or critical theorists, or something, but at the same time it is this entirely aesthetic posture which really validates and justifies what Uncle Acid is doing with each subsequent record. Because what they’re doing goes far beyond a passing curiosity in Manson, or a mere list of invocations and allusions. Instead, Uncle Acid perpetually poses Manson’s strange tale as a framework for their music, not to re-tell his story, but to create a huge, overarching artistic consistency that has bound together their recorded output in a very impressive way. Manson might be the most direct and specific launch point for their narrative, but it is not a single person, or a single incident, which their music looks to for inspiration. Instead, it is an entire mythos. It has little to do with Charles Manson the diminutive con artist, but everything to do with what he represents: a huge, sprawling desert, an endless night sky, countless eyes peering out from the darkness, and untold annals of depravity and bloodlust.
Well how’s that for an intro! Let’s talk about the album.
If it’s not clear already, I really like bands that do this kind of thing. And by “this kind of thing” I mean create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. After all, that’s essentially what “album-oriented rock” is all about, right? The Beatles started doing something around the time of Rubber Soul that made the ALBUM a thing, in a way it hadn’t been before. Their art was being realized on a larger scale, and as a result it became impossible to continue thinking about them as just a bunch of guys who wrote a bunch of songs. It was more important that these songs made up albums, and that these albums made up a continuous history, and that this history represented a very large, but a very singular thing, that was THE BEATLES. And I probably don’t need to say that The Beatles are another influence that Uncle Acid wear pretty clearly on their sleeve, but it’s particularly important to note how integral this approach to music-making has been to Uncle Acid’s whole process since day one.
As such, The Night Creeper is simply, but most importantly, the next step in the creation of Uncle Acid’s own little world, or the next chapter in an ever-growing mythos. It’s a very successful album, but that has little to do with it raising any eyebrows, at least the eyebrows of anyone who’s already familiar with their music. Rather, this record succeeds by honing many of the elements already present in the Deadbeat sound, turning the volume knobs up by a hair, slightly darkening all the darks, and coaxing listeners a few steps further into the madhouse.
In other words, there’s a pulse which runs through all of the Uncle Acid albums. And I do of course mean that somewhat figuratively, but there’s also a more palpable version of this pulse which comes through in sonic form on The Night Creeper more so than on their previous records. Needless to say, this is guitar-driven rock and roll, but from the very first notes of opening track “Waiting for Blood”, it’s impossible to ignore or escape the driving force that these guitars supply. They hit on every single eighth note, they ring out like all hell, they’re layered over with riffs and leads. They fill it all up, and they fucking PULSE. As they get into the second verse, things tighten up for a second, and then release again, and as the song runs its course through verses, chorus, and multiple solos, this pulse runs like black glue through the whole damn thing. If these guys were hoping to put forth a sonic vision of motorcycles approaching from the desert’s distant horizon, blurry heat rising up from the sand, well by golly they’ve succeeded.
Overall (and despite my insistence on album-to-album consistency) this record has a less economical, less compressed quality than its predecessor, Mind Control. That album saw them tightening their production a bit, adding some more textural variety to the mix, but never quite sounding huge. With this new one, it sounds like they are back in pursuit of a greater vastness of sound. Sure, the riffs are all there – check out “Murder Nights” and the title track, for starters – but they always seem a bit secondary to the walls of sound which rise up behind them. Not only in production, but in arrangement and instrumentation as well, the sound on this record is one that continually expands, and continually plods forward. Like the Blob. There is some great guitar work throughout this album, but each lead, each solo, each piece of feedback, doesn’t stand out on its own as much as it lays another brick in the foundation of some ghoulish castle, in the basement of which the depraved Deadbeats peel back bits of flesh and copulate in puddles of drying blood. Gross!
There are softer tracks on this album, but instead of scattered throughout, they are deliberately placed at the ends of sides A and B. And I like this, I think it gives the feeling of a structured program, and adds a sense of pomp which I do believe this album – and this band – strives for. This kind of thoughtful assembly makes it clear that, as listeners, we are not meandering through a gallery of sounds and images, but instead being led down a distinct path. Our guide may be a dubious one, and if we don’t watch our backs he may give us a cheeseburger stuffed with 10 tabs of acid, but we follow anyway, carried by that pulse, powerless to veer from his course.
My personal favorite moments on this album include the druggy allure of “Pusher Man” and the sinister sensuality of “Memory Lane”, but even when Uncle Acid’s songs are, on the surface, about drugs, or about love, or what-have-you, they’re still really about evil. And again, that’s why I remark on my favorite tracks as a kind of footnote, because it’s not what’s on the surface that matters, and it’s not the individual songs that matter. It’s that oft unseen but still omnipresent sense of evil that underlies the whole album, indeed their whole catalogue, and which holds everything together. Sonically and thematically, this album is a consummate realization of the band’s aesthetic, in a more thorough and successful way than its predecessors. Uncle Acid and his devoted Deadbeats may only take one step at a time, but they are steps in the right direction, and their slow but deliberate progress has allowed them to create something which is entirely compelling.
Click here to get your very own copy of this killer record, and take a listen to “Waiting for Blood” below: