Vain, Erudite & Stupid (selected works from 1987-2005)
On the morning of September 11, 2001 I listened to the Dead C’s EUSA Kills five times straight through. As I watched the endless loop of the planes flying into the buildings on TV one line from the song "Now I Fall" really stuck in my head. “Americans are everywhere,” Michael Morley spits out those words in a New Zealand south island drawl like the word “Americans” is the most foul obscenity that one could imagine. Shortly after that morning, George W. Bush would manage to make the word “Americans” even more obscene in the eyes of the rest of the world. No other band has so perfectly captured the horrors of American imperialism as well as the Dead C.
The Dead C started in a little town called Port Chalmers, New Zealand (a suburb of Dunedin, NZ) twenty years ago this year. This double disc covers nearly all of that time. While no dual disc can fully capture a band that has been around for two decades this disc do a pretty good job of it. While my friend complained that they chose to focus on the noisier out put of the band it is still a pretty stunning collection. They did miss some of the pop gems in the Dead C catalog (yes the Dead C could be poppy when they wanted to be) the breadth of these discs makes it valuable to a fan such as my self who already owns most of the original records.
The disc moves in mostly chronological order. It starts with “Max Harris” (recorded in 1988) with its trademark over modulated vocals of Michael Morley, the lo-fi guitar clang of Bruce Russell & Morley and the wreaked drum beats of Robbie Yeats. “Helen Said This” is a sprawling 10 plus minute epic that features Robbie Yeats’ amazing drumming. The Dead C is an excellent band to clean the house with. The roar of the vacuum cleaner melds perfectly with the band’s lo-fi rumblings.
The most powerful and direct song written by the band is “Power.” It was originally written in response to the invasion of Panama by W’s father. “Hell has come, My Baby was shot. My house was bombed. I’ve got no food. There is no water.” Sadly, eighteen years later these lyrics could be describing what the American military had done to the civilians of Iraq and Afghanistan [and what the state of Israel (with the support of America) did to the people of Beirut]. In fact, the Dead C issued a Fallujah edition (the 7” is entitled Relax Fallujah / Hell Has Come) of the song to commemorate the massacre of civilians at the hands of Americans in that town. It is a song from the view point of victims of American imperialism.
Neil Young claimed that there were no good protest songs being written today. “Power” matches the greatness and directness of anything Neil Young has written. “Mighty” is another one of the Dead C’s more direct tunes. The lyric “I think I prefer the grass to the fucking concrete,” is something that any developer should be forced to listen to before they build yet another ugly subdivision.
The first disc ends with the slow building “World.” It starts with a lone guitar and audience chatter before the rest of the band joins in. The Dead C walks the fine line between control and chaos. Their best work straddles that divide.
The second disc is much more abstract and open. This reflects a different direction they took in later years. I am very pleased that they included, “The Marriage of Reason and Squalor” from the “Operation of the Sonne” LP. My own LP might have been worth something if it were not totally worn out due to my constant playing of it. I bought it from Mr. Siltbreeze himself (I think) at some sort of all ages show/ swap meet upstairs at the Khyber in Philly when I was in high school.
“Bitcher” was the first song I played when I got a radio show in college. It is an all time classic up there with any of their other “hits” like “Power” or “Helen Said This.” “Tuba is Funny” does feature a tuba and is probably one of the most punishing tracks when listened to at the proper volume. The “Truth” proves that in their old age they have not forgotten the value of simply rocking out. The Dead C has made some of the most challenging and rewarding music over the last two decades. Here is hoping for two more. (Ba Da Bing Records) (Dan Cohoon)