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Review: 'LOW'

-  Genre: 'Indie' -  Release Date: '24th January 2005'-  Catalogue No: 'RTRADCD 206'

Our Rating:
The cliches surrounding LOW are well-established these days. Virtually everything you read about the Duluth trio refers to their religious persuasion (Mormon), the fact that singer/ guitarist Alan Sparhawk and singing drummer Mimi Parker are married and that they make the most exquisitely slow, funereal music ever committed to tape.

So surely we already know what to expect from Low's seventh album "The Great Destroyer"? Not so, my friends: for while "The Great Destroyer" certainly couldn't be stylistically confused with an album of the same name by Boston-based black metal band Cruelty Divine and patently isn't a belated attempt to mount the Green Day bandwagon, it's nonetheless the closest thing to an all out 'rock' album the supposed 'sadcore' trio have ever delivered. By some way, in fact.

Of course, the idea of Low as purely a miserablist faction who never veer from the blueprint has actually long been redundant. Even as far back as heartbeakingly melancholy second album "The Curtain Hits The Cast", Sparhawk and co were flirting with occasional all-out noise assaults and while their last studio album "Trust" contained the expected glacial brilliance with songs like "That's How You Sing Amazing Grace" and "Time Is The Diamond", it also had room for the amped-up likes of "Canada" and drop dead gorgeous crystalline pop such as "La La La Song."

So really the idea of Low grasping the pop nettle shouldn't be such a difficult concept to get your head around. Especially when the results are as exhilarating as the majority of "The Great Destroyer"'s many best moments.

Inevitably, producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips/ Mercury Rev) must take some of the credit. His studio nous clearly informs tracks like the nervy, frazzly overheating noise of "Everybody's Song" and especially the mellotron-driven neo-psychedelia of the lovely "Cue The Strings", which isn't a million miles from Mercury Rev's giant "Deserter's Songs" in design.

But regardless of Fridmann's input, it's still the quality of Sparhawk, Parker and bassist Zak Sally's intuitive playing that counts in the end, and Low are truly on top form this time around. So much so that while "The Great Destroyer" is still obviously a Low album, it's one that displays their grasp of tangible pop music in a way we've never heard before.

Indeed, the opening trio of "Monkey", "California" and "Everybody's Song" really are sounds for sore ears. "Monkey" is a hell of a start by anyone's standards and quite a departure in itself. Dark, fuzzy and possessive, it's built around Parker's hammering drums, Sparhawk's incendiary guitar shards and what sounds like a wall of Moog and concludes with the menacing chorus: "Tonight you will be mine, tonight the monkey dies." Bloody hell.

At a tangent, new single "California" is equally radical, in the sense it's as close to a chorus-heavy guitar pop hit as Low have ever written and none the worse for that, while the cranky, aforementioned "Everybody's Song" reminds us that heaviosity as well as brooding stillness is very much one of Low's fortes.

So you're at track four - the celestial and hymnal "Silver Rider" - before they deliver a song approaching the dignified sadcore that we'd normally associate with them. And while this song is a corker in itself (and almost pretty enough to have made the "Christmas" album), it's in the minority as the rest of the album unfolds.

Indeed, the only other tunes that succumb to anything like the brittle sparseness of yore are the bitter, cautionary acoustic tale of love over commerce that is "Death Of A Salesman" and "When I Go Deaf", which finds Alan and Mimi harmonising richly before it sells you a dummy as the band make a big rock entrance, amp it up and leave our ears bleeding as they go for a Crazy Horse-style burn. "On The Edge Of" employs similar sonic techniques, with Sparhawk's guitar sounding uncannily like Neil Young's immortal Old Black, while on "Step" he goes the whole hog and unleashes a lusty solo as Zak and Mimi indulge in hearty handclaps. Christ. This is Low we're talking about, isn't it?

Without question, friend. "The Great Destroyer" is - secretly - the album we always hoped Low would make: a record that captures their deep spirituality and infuses it with a thrilling rock edge. It's a bold step forward, a broadening of horizons and the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down anything but politely.

Or, as Alan sings of the infectious "Just Stand Back": "It's a hit, it's got soul/ Steal the show with your rock'n'roll."

I couldn't have put it better myself.
  author: TIM PEACOCK

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