Review Summary: WAKE UP!!!! I WANNA FEEL UR HEART!!!!!
Melt-Banana have absolutely no time for attention spans and neither do I. Their music is at once an entity unto itself and bizarrely essential to music as a whole, likely because there has always been an unspoken demand for hysterically overenergetic ultra-distorted music in the backs of minds of various hyperactive earth-dwelling consumers of music, none of whom have been completely satisfied by the earnestness and overbearing sincerity that runs through the majority of heavy music. Very few bands have it in their craft to be heavy and
fun in mutual excess, yet Melt-Banana have made a prolific career out of it and are quite comfortably in their third decade as I type. They’ve always been an abundantly heavy band without any of the scornful misanthropy, politicised sharpness and/or meatheaded obnoxiousness that tends to come with the package. That said, Charlie is without a shadow of a doubt their most aggressive album. After the more scatterbrained, underproduced antics of their previous outings, the girls and boys of MxBx seemed to feel it was time to raise their game on this one; the production is arguably the finest of their whole career, the songs are developed into disarmingly coherent structures, the noise is kept up at absolute fucking maximum from start to finish, and (unusually) many of the songs are laden with an off-hand sense of brutality that adds a different flavour to their trademark goofiness.
Case in point, opener Introduction for Charlie
is one of the most violently off-kilter and generally ballistic songs that will ever pass through your stereo, opening innocuously enough with a conventional ominous build before exploding into one of the most visceral exhibitions of scorched-earth noise and attentioncide you likely to come across, period. There’s a lot to be said for starting as you mean to go on here, as the band hit it off with such vast performances on this track that you’d imagine them being burnt out three minutes in. Not so: vocalist (‘singer’ is a loose term and quite frankly does not do justice to the sounds projected here) Yasuko O is at the top of her lungs from start to finish, somewhat more forthright than the squeaky style she’s become notorious for on later Melt-Banana albums but no less personable for it. As for the rest of the band, guitar hero Ichirō Agata is nothing less than inspired, with a performance fiercely and unrelentingly creative enough to make Tom Morello blush. His tones, riffs and feedback/pedal freakouts have to be heard to be believe and carry a raw texture sharper than anything that should be allowed near the human sensory experience. However, the rhythm section step up to a standard that is nothing short of intimidating and give Agata a constant run for his money in a way that has never quite been replicated since (aside from maybe on Teeny Shiny). The hellfire cheerleader-esque stomp of Spathic!!
and the endlessly protracted central breakdown in Cannot
would both be hilarious if it weren’t for the staggering degree of precision and intensity behind every drum and bass burst; both songs are militantly infectious in an unusually authoritative way for Melt-Banana, and it marks them out as firm keepers.
takes this even further with simpler, uncompromising rhythms that play out like the band attempting a straight-up beatdown and more or less succeeding; Stimulus For Revolting Virus
comes off as the same thing at double pace, framing itself as a punk track before lurching into a sickeningly unstable groove that gives way to perhaps Yasuko’s most ferocious performance to date (you’ll know it when you hear it). It’s not all about aggressive rock antics though; at points, Charlie doesn’t feel like music that is either supposed to be made or capable of being made by a rock band at all. While Area 877 (Phoenix Mix)
and Drug Store
are blasé in their disorientation, closer Chipped Zoo on the Wall, Wastes in the Sky…………….
is without a shadow of a doubt the most unapologetically strange thing here, kicking off with a borderline apocalyptic performance from Yasuko before strangling itself with layer upon layer of noise and fading into a prolonged loop of church bells (？) doing their sweet, sweet thing. It’s as though Melt-Banana changed the channel early without letting their audience know, and so the final moments of Charlie very much feel as though they have survived the rest of the album.
Survival is very much the operative word here. It’s clear to see why Charlie has never been the consensus favourite among Melt-Banana fans ever since Cell-Scape came along, as the band’s newfound knack for coherent songwriting only served to concentrate the gleeful violence of their noisey inspirations more intensely here. This album is aesthetically harsh and dynamically a complete overload, but for those fond of the rougher side of more popular Melt-Banana albums (think Chain-Shot To Have Some Fun
or Lefty Dog (Run, Caper, Run)
) it stands as an absolute gift with as much cutting-edge appeal as ever just over twenty years down the line. Everything that has been developed in Melt-Banana’s discography since has been a kind of enlivening and expansion on the sound coined here; it’s done them all manner of favours, but as far as scorched earth inceptions go, they couldn’t have done better than they did on Charlie.