Review Summary: Sometimes you need to know when to let it go
Picture this – you wake up on a perfectly serviceable Sunday morning. The sun is peeking in through the curtains; the world outside is happy and bustling. You take a shower, and then plop down on the couch with a cup of coffee. Life feels good, and you can’t help but savour the initial tranquillity further amplified with the relaxed post-shower vibe. And then, in the blink of an eye, a sense of dread creeps up in your innards as you realise that you’ve lost grasp on something that formed a part core of your self-perceived identity. You never officially admitted in front of yourself to hanging up the hat, but it’s been years since you gave said thing a valiant effort, and it’s slowly slipped away between the cracks of everyday matters. Two natural courses of action present themselves. The first is just to admit to having hung up the hat and move on. However, this is something you’re often not ready to do mentally, even if you haven’t been active in ages. As such, the second course of action has more of a subconscious pull to it – get back into things! However, the assault you end up mounting is often going to end up rag-tag, as you’ll try to compensate for all the time lost and rush into things to not let it get away from you. That, when combined with the inevitable rustiness you likely picked up along the way, can lead to some rather patchy results that would have been better off left unattained.
Corey Loog Brennan is my spirit animal. The man effortlessly nailed everything I wished I could be, and did it far better than I could have ever hoped to do myself – an enduring academic career at the world’s top institutions is interlaced with being an underground guitar demigod, helping a Deily-less Lemonheads catch their stride. Not long after nailing a particularly spine-chilling rendition of his magnum opus “(The) Door” during a Peel session, Loog largely withdrew from the musical realm, going into academia full time. That is, until 1995 rolled around. For some reason, an eponymous band was assembled, and a record was dropped on a nondescript foreign label. Said record went over without causing anything even borderline resembling a splash and Loog never graced an album with his presence again. The combination of Meltdown House being an isolated blip on the radar with the awkward nature of the content within has me thinking that it might have been a case of desperately trying to recapture being a recording artist.
The band’s main drawback is the singer. I’m notorious for tuning vocals out at every opportunity, but it’s flat-out impossible to ignore the debacle that is Dana Everson’s performance on here. The bulk of the album is arranged in an extremely constrained fashion, with the instruments playing simplistic lines that put a lot of pressure on the vocal performance. Given a smashing singer, this could have been a rather mediocre record, one of those debuts with potential where the pieces still needed to fall into place. However, Dana Everson is downright unlistenable on here, offering up a dead-eyed delivery with no conviction, and the musicality peaking at the bare required minimum of hitting the notes. When you add in a splash of unsubtle commercial dreams, things get disgusting. “Radio 9” is a strong contender for the worst song I have heard in my life – Dana weaves a tepid tale of media conquest as the record’s most trite riff bangs its head against a wall in the background. I can’t imagine Loog came out of retirement with dreams of creating stuff of this quality, and the rushed nature of the project seems to become apparent. Literally anybody who isn’t Dana would do a better job fronting this material, Loog himself included.
The album’s redeeming features are few and far between, as the musical backdrop rarely bothers rearing its head from being a minimal vehicle for the tuneless vocals. The title track features some tasteful progressions with intricate chord shapes that would have made the old Loog proud. “King XIII” sees Chris Brokaw emerge from behind the kit and murmur a duet with a guest female singer, adding a wistful edge to the tune and really driving home how horrible the choice of singer was. “Morgantown” is easily the album highlight, with everything falling into place – the music wraps itself successfully around Dana’s lack of delivery for once, the interplay of the busier guitars with a cliché punk drum beat creating the perfect fanged realm for her lack of expression to somehow sound menacing, all before the song shifts gears and ends in the record’s only inspired barrage of lead guitar. There’s a second promising solo unravelling towards the end of “Crayon”, but in some sort of cruel joke of the universe my CD cuts off abruptly a good 40 seconds earlier than promised.
All in all, Meltdown House serves as a testament to knowing not only when to get off the stage, but also when to stay off it. Corey Loog Brennan’s musical legacy was perfectly serviceable at the time of his early retirement, with this unlikely resurrection doing no good. A collection of insipid, simplistic riffs shifts all responsibility to the singer, who’s about as not up to the job as humanly possible. There are a handful of moments when things fall into place, but they’re very scarce. I can’t imagine anybody setting out to get this sort of album on his or her track record. Sometimes you need to know when to let it go.