Review Summary: A story of addiction that starts after friends and loved ones have already abandoned you rather than subjecting us to another trite album focusing on the threat of their departure. This is what happens when the intervention doesn't work.
This album crept completely out of left field for me. Had I not been perusing music lists on Amazon.com when I should have been devoting at least a minute effort to my ***ty job, I never would have found ‘The Narcotic Story’. As it turns out, this band has been lurking in the shadows of the music world for just over 20 years! Great news for anyone with a predilection towards dark, obscure and confrontational music not already acquainted with Oxbow. If this album is any indication then I look forward to wallowing in the depths of their back catalogue!
As evidenced by the album title, this is a drug record. This is no sissy weed record, however. There is no Grateful Dead psychedelic mystique. No happy-hippy hand holding feel good campfire Woodstock feel. This isn’t even grungy heroin romanticism. No, this is the soundtrack to black-out addiction. This is swapping your junky girlfriend’s cunt for your next fix music. This is the realization that the convenience store clerk didn’t survive your smash and grab. This is the blubbering fiends who stalk trash strewn urban alleyways where it is always 4am and whose families have already long since given up on them. This is a story that starts after the loss of friends and loved ones, all but abandoning the over exposed theme of the threat of their departure. If there is a particular emotional state that dominates ‘The Narcotic Story’ it is one of paranoia and confusion.
The band delivers this story with a fusion of bleak, noisy blues rock. The metal and hard rock influences apparent on past albums (or so I have read) have been largely cast off in favour of a blues-dominated sound. The guitar and bass carry the mood with exceptional eloquence. Using the track “Time Gentlemen, Time” as an example we can hear the harmonious melding of guitar and bass to create a feel of true unease. Appearing in the mix just slightly out of tune from one another, they force the point of unpleasantness right down your throat. The percussion carries the tempo expertly. Usually understated and groovy it carries the urgency of the faster tracks with impressive fills and flourishes courtesy of drummer Greg Davis.
While the band members are clearly masters of their craft, all roads on this album lead to Eugene Robinson’s inhuman vocal performance. Sounding like Tom Waits channeling the pure, divine representation of chemical possession he lifts this album from a great piece of dark music to an exercise in aggressive bleakness few musicians can rival! Invoking flop house dope fiends on “The Geometry of Business” the first minute is an incomprehensible mess of muttering and howling. Even when the words become audible they are babbled in a broken, disjointed manner. A lost junky mourning the incorrectness of his ‘numbers’. The up-tempo “Down a Stair Backward” starts with a lonely violin hum before we hear “Oh, Jesus…. We had nothin’ to do with this really…” almost as if a moment of dope sick lucidity has led to realization of an unforgivable act. It is not often vocals alone really make an album for me. They are always an undeniably important piece of the puzzle, and they have broken quite a few records I have otherwise enjoyed, but in this case they reign supreme.
Music of this caliber does not just fall into my lap with any regularity. This is a long-standing avant-garde outfit I had somehow just plain never heard of until I saw this album on a list of music portraying “Real Darkness”. If you are unfamiliar with this album let it get under your skin now! If you are already an Oxbow devotee, feel free to call me an asshole for waiting so long to become acquainted with them.