I’ve had terrible writer’s block this week. It’s probably, in part, due to having to go through two 250+ page documents in detail at work, but I’ve also found it incredibly difficult to write about these two albums because they are so close to being perfect. In fact, numerous times I thought of deleting everything and simply saying “These records are awesome!”, but I haven’t so you now have to read what I eventually managed to cobble together.
First up is Bloodlust, the new album from Ice T’s metal crew Body Count. Body Count first burst onto the scene back in the early 1990s, and were a breath for fresh air on the music landscape – loud and political, fusing heavy metal and hip hop and bringing the respective genres to new audiences. In amongst the multitude of rap-metal bands that followed in the late 90s and early 00s, Body Count were sidelined a little, and never really released an album that lived up to the promise of their debut… Until now!
Aggressive, political, culturally relevant, and showing off a multitude of musical influences, this is one of the finest metal albums of the decade. Opening with the politically charged “Civil War” with its “Emergency Annoucnement” introduction, thundering metal drums, Gangster Rap style lyrics (“They try and twist the problem like it’s white and black, but if you come to shoot me, yo I’m shooting back”) and some Dave Mustane growling, with thrash guitar making an appearance in the chorus.
This continues throughout the album, with the Black Lives Matter movement taking centre stage – “No Lives Matter” and single “Black Hoodie” are the most focused on the issue. “No Lives Matter” starts with Ice T’s take on Black Lives Matter – “By saying All Lives Matter, you’re diluting what I’m saying…It’s about black lives, at the moment“, and this continues throughout the track. While it does focus on racism for the most part, the message is that Black Lives Matter is about everyone being equal – not just black lives, “it’s yellow, it’s brown, it’s red; it’s anyone who ain’t got cash, poor whites that they call trash“; and “when it comes to the poor, no lives matter“.
“Black Hoodie” focuses on the Trayvon Martin shooting, with its KRS One sample and the hard hitting lyric “Got on a black hoodie, its hood up on my head; I didn’t have a gun so why am I dead; You didn’t have to shoot me and that’s a known fact; And now I’m laying face down with bullets in my back“.
It’s not all about the lyrics though, it’s musically brilliant as well. Ice-T says on the introduction to the cover of “Raining in Blood”, “I used the three bands that were my favourites at the time to set the tone. We used the impending doom of a group like Black Sabbath… the punk sensibility of somebody like Suicidal [Tendencies] … and the speed and the precision of Slayer“, and this is evident across the whole record together with elements of thrash metal (not just because of Dave Mustane’s appearance) and some more modern music-metal influences. This blend of classic and modern influences, paired with the political slant, is what brings Bloodlust into its own and puts it up there with Body Count’s debut.
Aimee Mann’s Mental Illness, on the other hand, is low key musically, delicately arranged with acoustic guitar, piano and string instruments – drums feature only occasionally. Despite this delicate tone however, it’s impact is just as strong as anything Ice-T’s metal crew have to offer.
The album is a collection of short stories, each taking a character with a different mindset and different emotional issues. Whilst the subject matter should, in theory, make for a depressing album, Mann succeeds in keeping it lyrically humorous and musical upbeat.
The highlights in Mann’s storytelling include “Patient Zero”, about an aspiring actor arriving in Hollywood with a life that looks great, but the experience leaves him feeling a bit down; “Philly Sinks”, about a man who drinks to forget his troubles; and “Knock it Off”, about a man who can’t get over his ex.
Musically, she avoids the main pitfall facing albums with delicate arrangements and traditional song structures, which is the risk of sounding “samey” or boring. In fact, the music blends perfectly with the lyrical content, and Mann manages to keep the folk tinged indie-pop interesting throughout, with her enticing choruses, interesting harmony arrangements and a multitude of different instruments.
I guess what I’ve been trying to say is These records are awesome!