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The Walkabouts: Acetylene (Glitterhouse)


AcetyleneRock'n'roll has become fucking boring. A smelly garbage dump of safe thinking. A stream of prefab entertainment. Amusement to keep our throats in a firm stranglehold until we choke. So what's the big news? Nothing. It's been like this for ages and I'm not even sure it's gotten worse, only more visible. The lack of meaning gets more in your face as the world gets more threatening and we need something real to cling to. We turn the TV on and there's another reality show faking life, and the new half-naked bimbo bling-bling hiphop video, and the late night talk show where the host buttons and unbuttons his tailor-made jacket and asks meaningless questions to meaningless guests with nothing to say, and the smirky faces of the Hannibal Lecters running this Prozac Nation we used to call our world. Any little bit of realness to shake us out of our mass media Valium haze would be fine. Real emotions to provoke our real needs. Real people speaking their real minds.


"Acetylene" won't save the world. But it's real enough to admit there's something terribly wrong here. It's a pissed-off, desperate and sometimes even panic-stricken spit in the red hot frying pan of nothingness. The cranked-up guitars that can curl flesh off bones are deafening only because the riot "going on" is in fact just a segment of silence concealed by the lasting hum of manufactured consent.


No, "Acetylene" won't save the world. It's only a record. But it puts rock'n'roll where it should be, where it yells "Fuck you! Let's take over! Let's turn the tables over! Kick out the jams MOTHERFUCKERS!" After twenty years in existence, The Walkabouts have made one of their youngest albums to date. It's an album of youthful frustrations over the overgrown, overblown semi-world, but phrased with the intelligence and vocabulary that hopefully come with age. The Walkabouts have learnt how to handle the grace of details to make the statements more powerful. It shows not only in the words but in the arrangements as well. They use stop/start moments to increase the effect of anger. They suggest the elegance of classic Motown ballads in the melody of "Whisper". They throw a danceable "Taxman"-like bass line into "Before This City Wakes". For "Northsea Train", they use an evocative rhythm of warning. The garage rock psychedelia - complete with eerie organ - of the title track is very seductive. There are even touches of glam rock here and there.


With all such musical hints and quotes, what makes this album any different from the thirteen-a-dozen retro bands out there? I'd say: Intent. The good thing about the sad fact that The Walkabouts are no huge sellers is that they, roughly speaking, have nothing to protect but their own integrity. They have no chart positions to defend and they've been into this long enough to have rid themselves of the rock'n'roll clichés of fame and fortune. If they ever had any such conceptions, they surely must have gone down along with their sunken major label contract almost a decade ago. So The Walkabouts are free from these concerns, and free to make music that counts. Music that makes a difference, if only to the few. But change starts with individuals - even if Bono would argue otherwise - and if The Walkabouts reach out on an individual level, then that's a valid kind of success no matter if it can be measured in dollars and euros or not.


One could argue that album closer "The Last Ones" suggests that we're doomed, that we're all ghosts in waiting. That's not how I perceive it. It's more like a word of warning and we haven't reached the situation it warns us of. Not yet, and we don't have to get to that point either. Like so many times before, The Walkabouts share a faith. Only this time the scenery is the world at large, not so much personal matters and turmoils. It would be an overstatement to call "Acetylene" a manifesto, but it definitely deals with political concerns. It's politics for survival against a backdrop of politics for destruction. It's meaningful, and it's the first contemporary rock music I've heard in quite some time that's worthy of that particular adjective.


On another, less abstract level, it simply rocks the shit out of you.


Peter Sjöblom