Review Summary: Serving as the poster-child for streaming an album prior to purchase.
People have never been able to agree whether people agreed about dredg. Leitmotif
came first, but it was 2002's El Cielo
which formed the canyon, harbouring an ominous atmosphere which had the cults clamouring for their classic status labels even before anybody had realised how oddly elusive the songwriting was. Then Catch Without Arms
screwed up the dynamic with simplified structures and sparkling choruses and it was all of a sudden impossible to say with any conviction whether El Cielo
had been a point of departure or an anomaly or any part of a recognisable trend at all. Pariah
was a creeper of a record which did absolutely nothing to answer the riddle and so people continued to ask: who actually are
Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy
was supposed to be the chapter that finally revealed whether dredg were in the midst of penning a thriller or a comedy, where the key elements of their identity were unveiled. Which is not to say it was destined to be a carbon-copy of either Catch Without Arms
or El Cielo
; the band have proven with ample tenacity that they're not exactly prone to sitting still. They prove that again here. But the trouble is that Chuckles
doesn't evoke a response similar to anything else in the band's back catalogue in terms of amplitude. No, the overwhelming response to the musical aesthetic of Chuckles
is as underwhelming as they come:
It's actually bewildering. Chuckles
is about minimalism, which the band have always been good at; it's about weird pop hooks, which have always appeared in one form or another; it's about uncomfortable lyricism, another endearing component part of everything from Leitmotif
through to Pariah
. But it's fundamentally about re-defining these terms: minimalist
. All of this might seem like a glorious artistic statement were the things that tied them together not so goddamn tepid. But drummer Dino Campanella has been by-and-large replaced by a machine. Guitar crescendos have been eschewed in favour of taps and clicks. And none of theses songs bubble with any sort of intensity at all; listening to Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy
is at most junctures an exercise in remaining focussed.
The twenty-second passage of almost dead air at the start of undeniable stand-out (not exactly the award of the millennium) 'The Ornament' is the sort of thing you could easily see being documented as an artistic stroke of genius on an album more vital, more invigorated than this. And don't get me wrong here, it's not about the tempo of these songs; dredg have always done melancholy well, and sadness better. But the lethargy within these tracks is not a calculated one, it is a lazy one, certainly in effect, if not in process. The motifs are banal and stagnant; the lyrics are five or six notches beneath unassuming
to the point that they mean nothing at all. Even vocalist Gavin Hayes doesn't sound any more like he knows why he's carrying that trademark downbeat hum of his.
The temptation is to pass off Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy
as the anomaly, the joker in the pack which doesn't fit alongside the rest of the band's work, but by now, surely the time has come to admit that, whichever dredg album you hold aloft as their crowning achievement, and whatever trajectory you think they have followed during their time as a band, there's just a chance it's never been building to anything at all. Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy
is a phenomenally uninteresting affair from start to finish, not just musically, but also as a point of discussion in the context of dredg's canon. Neither thriller nor comedy, Chuckles
is entirely akin to those straight-to-DVD 'drama' movies with little to no drama whatsoever.
But hey. Maybe, at least, dredg fans can finally agree on something: Chuckles & Mr Squeezy
sucks. It really does.