Truly Great: McLusky

Treble staff

McLusky wasn’t meant to last long. A band that brutal, that abrasive, that unapologetically obnoxious, explodes as quickly as its formed, leaving a particularly noxious puff of smoke, cinders left from the expanse of destruction it caused, and three particularly awesome albums. The Welsh trio embodied the pinnacle of showmanship: they left on a high note, the stellar, and underrated, The Difference Between You and Me Is I’m Not On Fire. And yet, it doesn’t feel like we got nearly enough of the band that taunted us for not being the ones in need of burn treatment.

Come and gone in the stretch of about five years, McLusky was a rare band in the first half of the ’00s. They rocked, completely fucked-up and raw, taking cues from The Pixies, Nirvana, Pavement, Shellac, The Jesus Lizard and The Fall, but these reference points are just that; the combination of all of these elements yielded a surprisingly original sound, one that was as catchy and palatable as it was completely merciless. When their meaty chops weren’t pummeling you, their foul-mouthed insults and hilarious couplets were. Snotty without being sassy, likeable without being fashionable, McLusky were the kind of band that few strive to be though more should.

I was first introduced to McLusky through Ed Harcourt, who I was interviewing after the release of his Here Be Monsters. As I asked him about the title of his record, he gave a fairly straightforward explanation, before commenting about a band from Wales who named their album My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours had a much better title. I couldn’t disagree: that one’s a doozy. But the music on the album wasn’t anything to fuck with either: punky two minute explosions of scratchy guitar, shouting and ironclad bass, nothing more, nothing less. It delivered everything it promised, but the band only went upward from there.

McLusky’s true breakout was 2002’s masterpiece McLusky Do Dallas, an album as hardcore and as cheeky as its title might imply. Featuring crunchy rockers like “Whoyouknow,” high speed punk explosions like “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” noisy freakouts like “No New Wave No Fun,” and the extremely amusing verbal vitriol of “Gareth Brown Says,” in which frontman Andy Falkous plainly, yet sing-songily states, “all your friends are cunts.” They declared that one of these bands had fake tits, that they take more drugs than a touring funk band and that your heart’s gone the color of coca-cola. Nobody was innocent in McLusky’s songs—take Alan, indicted of cowboy homicide—and they let us know that we, all of us, are going straight to hell. Cynical buggers. It’s fair to say that most of the time they were taking the piss, but they did it with such force and such violence that any laughter was paired with an impending sense of terror. Again, though, that’s just the showmanship. Without dressing up in silly costumes or creating a false backstory, McLusky developed a mythical persona in their song that spoke louder than any contrived press photograph.

In 2004, McLusky released their third and final disc, The Difference Between You and Me Is I’m Not On Fire, arguably one of the most underrated albums of the past decade, and indisputably one of the loudest. Delving deeper into darker sounds and textures, the Welsh trio retained part of their humorous, venomous lyricism, though toned it down in favor of creepier moments like “Lucky Jim,” “Your Children Are Waiting For You To Die” and the eight minute closer, “Support Systems.” Even in the album’s catchiest song, “She Will Only Bring You Happiness,” Falkous sang of hometown horrors: “murder stalked the valley where this woman used to live/and bathe and breathe and be murdered.” Almost three songs in one, “Happiness” begins with a self-help mantra, followed by a plea to aliens, and ending with the repeated, admittedly comical phrase “our old singer is a sex criminal,” changed to “ex-criminal” on the accompanying video edit, which saw the band followed around by a stray bowling pin.

Difference was a more varied and unpredictable album than Dallas, yet managed to retain the band’s characteristic rawness, tapping into a side they hadn’t previously exposed. Live, the band was straightforward and visceral, charging through songs quickly and with volume on their side. Yet, McLusky’s between song banter revealed them to be personable, fun and every bit as entertaining even when they were not actually playing music.

I saw McLusky perform only once, several months after Difference was released. They played in San Diego a couple days after the 2004 election to a disappointed but energized hipster crowd, albeit one that wasn’t about to start dancing. Falkous and bassist Jonathan Chapple attempted to get the audience to move a little more, even prompting one fellow to do some sort of jig, ultimately commenting that we were “like London, but with better haircuts.” Falkous offered his pity for the outcome of the presidential vote, yet commenting that it would be worse to have Dick Cheney as a president, seeing as how he’s “cartoon evil.”

Amidst the good natured taunting and political commiseration, McLusky pummeled with a blistering set of songs drawn heavily from their last two albums. No moment seems to embody their chaotic and manic spirit more than their set closer “To Hell With Good Intentions,” which found Chapple beating his bass fiercely with a drumstick, everything ultimately collapsing into noise and all melody being sucked from the song in the end. You often hear about bands being “hungry” on stage, and that held true for McLusky—they gave it their all. Yet they almost literally were hungry, having been robbed of all their gear and merchandise the night before. Some friends took donations for them in an attempt to raise money for replacements and the gas to make it to the end of their tour. I don’t know how much they got, but I personally contributed whatever I had in my wallet at the time. I would have bought a t-shirt, of course, but there weren’t any, seeing as how they were stolen.

I’m not sure if this is what ultimately ended the band, but within a two months, the Cardiff trio had called it quits. I was upset to see them dissolve so quickly, but in retrospect, it seemed only apt. Just like their songs, attention span and fuse, their career was short, yet delivered an amazing couple of albums and singles. In closing the final chapter of this soon-to-be-legendary band (just you wait, my friend), Too Pure has compiled a “best-of” of sorts called McLuskyism. Packaged in two different versions, a single disc and a triple, it collects the bands hits on the former, and on the latter adds b-sides and a live set. Falkous admits to having some trouble with the b-sides, and live sets aren’t always for everyone, but the first disc, the collected “hits,” as it were, is flawless. Containing selections from all of their albums, in addition to the non-album singles “Undress for Success” and “There Ain’t No Fool in Ferguson,” McLuskyism offers a surprisingly coherent and comprehensive look at the short but monumental work of a band that offered something refreshingly snotty and fun, even at its darkest.

McLuskyism offers some closure to the McLusky story with a brief summary that encapsulates many of the band’s best moments. It would be unwise to stop there, as their studio albums are all worthy of destroying your fragile ears, but it’s a fitting end to a band that didn’t so much burn out or fade away, but rather careened down a narrow alleyway before coming to a screeching halt.

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