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Craig's Music Club
Music CD Recommendations

Spotlight on: History in Reverse by The Blackouts


Cover of History in Reverse by The Blackouts The Blackouts, History in Reverse

Tracked in reverse chronological order, a new anthology from K Records featuring The Blackouts -- aptly titled History in Reverse -- is an ideal portrait of the career of this 1980s band featuring Erich Werner on vocals and guitar, Roland Barker on synthesizer and saxophone, Bill Rieflin on drums, and Mike Davidson on bass.

Originally based in Seattle, they shared the stage with The Beakers and XTC. One live reviewer even suggested that, had the Beakers evolved into XTC, the Blackouts would have been an intermediate stage. The band itself eventually folded most of itself into industrial rock icons Ministry. That band's leader Al Jourgensen's presence is felt in his production of History in Reverse's later-period -- but earlier-numbered -- tracks, specificially "Idiot," "Writhing," and "Everglades."

Being more drawn to lighter than darker material, I prefer the Blackouts' earlier work (although "Happy Hunting Ground" is nicely reminiscent of Oingo-Boingo and "Idiot" is my favorite song on the album -- in both the regular and "pre-version" forms -- especially the pinging guitar), in particular the cuts from their debut single. In general, the further along in the track listing a song appears, the more I like it.

They have a definite sense of melodic structure, but unfortunately, Werner's sometimes-histrionic vocal style can break the spell ("Being Be" and "Probability"), often ruining the effect of the song, depending on one's mood. The only track on which this is not a likelihood is "Five is 5," a bouncy instrumental. "Chipped Beef" shows an influence on Soundgarden (and Kim Thayil even offers a reminiscence in the promotional materials).

If the bass were tuned any lower on "Writhing" (another favorite due to that and the repetition of the title), there wouldn't be enough tension left for it to perform successfully as an instrument and "Young Man" finds saxophonist Barker taking a jazzier approach. "Dead Man's Curve" is not a cover of the famous Jan and Dean death-rock song; it's actually one of the more fun tracks, with a near-novelty feel.

It is often more fascinating to program History in Reverse in reverse. When playing the songs in their proper chronological order, the listener gets a sense of the development (rather than devolution) of the Blackouts from a simple art rock band ("The Underpass" and "Make No Mistake" from the aforementioned single) to a band who members would later blend right into the fold of one of the hardest and darkest bands in popular music.



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