The first song on McLusky Do Dallas, the second album by Welsh trio McLusky, is titled “Lightsaber Cocksucking Blues.” It begins at a sprint and seems to be in a state of perpetual acceleration, its chunky power chord riffs breaking up vocalist Andrew Falkous’ one-liners like “I know it looks bad and the gun’s in my hand, but believe me I’m innocent” and “Nicotine stain on account of a crutch, and I’m aching from fucking too much.” It’s funny, more than a little caustic, and grows increasingly tense over its brief duration, Falkous’ voice growing more harried as the band races toward an inevitable collapse. And though it runs just a few seconds shy of two minutes long, by the time it’s over, you should pretty well know whether you’re on board with the band’s sardonically aggressive noise rock or not.
“Lightsaber Cocksucking Blues” is McLusky as a microcosm—loud, snotty, frequently hilarious, and willing to push things just a little bit farther than most other bands might. More punk rock in their attitude than in their bilious earworms, McLusky made anxious, aggressive music that boasted the all too rare quality of being pure, destructive fun without the baggage of giving three tenths of a shit.
Not many bands in the early ’00s made records that sounded much like McLusky Do Dallas. Sonic Youth and Shellac were still around, as well as more explosive groups like Lightning Bolt, but the time, a more stereotypical “classic rock” sound proved inescapable. Resuscitated after its third or fourth cardiac event, once threatened by boy bands grown in orchards in Orlando, Florida and stacking up in overcrowded bins of then-unsellable used vinyl, rock received an adrenaline shot on the part of eager labels juiced up on the promise of bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes supposedly reanimating its corpse. For a couple of years there, rock was seemingly all you’d hear—the kind your parents supposedly listened to, but with an advance from Apple. Rowdy garage rock like The Hives. Boot-cut arena rock like Jet. Operatic rock theatrics like The Darkness. Moody weed-cloud rock like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Shaggy haired Southern rock like Kings of Leon. And, less obviously, the stage-destroying art-punk of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, the weirdest major label signing of the early aughts and maybe the closest thing to a peer temporarily on the other side of the corporate divide.
McLusky Do Dallas is a rock album, too, but it’s not that kind of rock album. It’s anxious and agitated, misanthropic and hilarious. It features songs titled “Fuck This Band” and “The World Loves Us and Is Our Bitch,” and many of them are as much showcases for vocalist Andy Falkous’ uncanny talent for creative insults (“All your friends are cunts/Your mother is a ball-point pen thief,” he sings, set to a bouncy rhythm) as they are for the band’s own explosive punk sounds. On McLusky Do Dallas, the band’s trash talk is as good as their riffs—and make no mistake, here, the riffs are outstanding.
Recorded by Steve Albini—engineer behind similarly ill-tempered rock albums by the likes of The Jesus Lizard and Oxbow—McLusky Do Dallas is a mad tear through 14 songs at once confrontational and good-humored. The entire first side feels like running headfirst through an obstacle course without a helmet, careening through the manic surge of “No New Wave No Fun,” somersaulting into the vulgar inside-baseball scene politics of “Collagen Rock” (“One of those bands got paid I heard...”) and stumbling through the prickly edges of “What We’ve Learned.” When it was released, there weren’t many reviews that didn’t mention The Pixies, who also recorded with Albini and whose singer likewise shared an affinity for manic, profane outbursts. The album’s second side slows the pace a little but without letting off the throttle much, offering the closest thing to a straightforward rock radio song with “Alan Is a Cowboy Killer.” Which, it should be noted, also contained some of Falkous’ legendary one-liners (“You were such an ugly child,” “We had crazy fucking times/Till her Visa card expired“). McLusky Do Dallas isn’t an album of high-minded ideals of speaking truth to power, but they didn’t punch down either. Mostly, they just punched.
Despite being as consistently catchy a record as it is, McLusky Do Dallas didn’t produce any actual hits. One problem being, as Falkous once told the Australia Morning Herald, that “all the songs that you could sing along to had swear words in them.” “Lightsaber Cocksucking Blues,” for instance, is a phrase you can’t say on the radio or on TV. The one possible exception is “To Hell With Good Intentions,” its title a witty mangling of the old saw about the road to hell and its content a tangle of barbed-wire riffs, seasick bass and humorously hostile boasts: “My band is better than your band, we take more drugs than a touring funk band/Sing it!” In under three minutes it encapsulates everything that makes McLusky so infectiously dyspeptic. (Sing it!) Where it placed on the charts seems irrelevant in the scheme of things, given that it’s regarded as something of a cult classic now; Japandroids have covered the song a number of times live, and it placed unusually high on Seattle radio station KEXP’s Top Songs of All Time.
The group released one more album after Do Dallas, the thornier The Difference Between You and Me Is I’m Not On Fire (which did, however, feature the pop standout “She Will Only Bring You Happiness”), and broke up shortly thereafter, and without much drama. Bassist Jon Chapple didn’t want to continue touring with the group anymore, leaving Falkous and drummer Jack Egglestone to start a new band, Future of the Left, who since released five similarly gnarled albums of searing post-hardcore.
McLusky might have sounded like they didn’t give a shit, but if that were true they couldn’t have created songs this unabashedly good. But then again, perhaps that lack of inhibitions is what kept them from trying to please anyone but themselves. They showed up to the party, drank all the top-shelf stuff in plastic cups and smashed a few Hummels on the way out. They had crazy fucking times.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.