When my brother Jay was in the second grade, years before he bought a Fender Squire during one of Guitar Center’s ubiquitous blowout sales, he was in a garage band with his friend Ethan and another kid who had the grave misfortune of being named Thor. Technically, it wasn’t even a band. They never practiced and didn’t even have instruments, though Thor was supposedly a drummer. They indulged, if only briefly, in the childhood rock star fantasies that the garage had to offer.
One wonders what would have happened if they stayed together. Had Jay not lost contact with Ethan, had my brother not abandoned rock and roll for the culinary arts, would the cootie trio have succeeded? Perhaps if they stewed in the garage — seasoned with pinches of MC5, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Seattle grunge — they could have turned out like Burning Brides. The hypothetical garage trio might have even put out an album like Leave No Ashes complete with cameos by Mike Watt, Brett Nelson and Mark Lanegan.
Okay, so maybe not. Burning Brides exhibits more dynamism in their second album than even the most gifted second grader could muster for a diorama. For instance, on the jilted “King of the Demimonde,” the languid lethargy that opens the song transitions into overdriven riffage before swaggering into swinging sleazy metal. A decorated shoebox attempting to do the same thing pales in comparison.
Following the raw, skimpy and somewhat redundant debut Fall of the Plastic Empire, it seems frontman Dimitri Coats made a conscious effort to write variety into the band’s follow up. While the fuzzy “To Kill a Swan” falls into similar territory as “Demimonde,” the remainder of the album offers a mix of pounding hard rock, jangling rock, a pop tune and a little organ. These eclectic shifts leave Ashes feeling more accomplished than its predecessor.
At its core, the album is held together by fist pumping rock like the opener “Heart Full of Black” or the relentless machine gun rush of “Alternative Teenage Suicide.” Yet a departure like “Dance with the Devil” exhibits the type of diverse songwriting that some found lacking in Plastic Empire. The song transforms during the bridge from plane-through-the-skull riff rock to a sinister landscape of organ, pounding bass and Coats’ suddenly sullen refrain “I’ll never be that lost again.”
While another departure like “Pleasure in the Pain” isn’t particularly palatable, it’s followed by the poppy “From You.” The three-chord verse carries the hook heavy, somewhat devotional, somewhat jaded song into an organ-laden drift away. The melancholy “Last Man Standing” ranks as the album’s most ambitious: piano, flanged guitar picks, strings, backing vocals and Coats’ somber singing deliver the listener to the darkest place on earth. The dreary place Coats may be referring to could be the goth winter ball that plays “Vampire Waltz.” The song’s dirge-like drone conjures images of anemic neophyte Nosferatu swaying like cinders caught in a winter breeze.
You still got to wonder what could’ve been had those three eight-year-olds met, scrounged up the paper route money for cheap ass gear and played. Who knows, had the family lived somewhere different, maybe a teenage Coats could’ve taught those young’uns how to rock. But he probably had better things to do.
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R
Motorhead – Ace of Spades
Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters