Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Albums Of The Decade: #9

La Peste - Alabama 3 [2000]


The good thing, I suppose, is that in knowing I'll never justify this selection to anyone who takes their music seriously, I can write pretty much whatever I want about it.

But I do want naysayers to know this - it's not a comedy record. I've heard, and detested, enough comedy records to know that. The tongue that was planted so firmly in cheek for their brilliant debut Exile On Coldharbour Lane (at least listen to the first track, Converted, before you judge it) is still there in La Peste, but as the title and cover sleeve suggest, it's a darker and much more serious album, more likely to draw on the absurdism of Albert Camus than take the piss out of the orchestrator of the Jonestown Massacre, as they did in their debut.

It's true that Alabama 3 have since lost sight of their original goal. They've gone MOR; 'sold out' into Midwestern country-pop. Setting aside 2005 release Outlaw, which is really rather good, it's not that bad an idea to pretend they stopped making music after their first two albums.

So, for that reason and the fact it's bloody marvellous, La Peste should be remembered. Whether it's the opus that defines their career or whether that honour belongs to Exile On Coldharbour Lane depends on how much you like your gospel, but even the most pretentious of tryhards should at least give this album a go. You never know. There might be a guilty pleasure within.

La Peste certainly starts brilliantly. Too Sick To Pray is actually, just, wow. Not always have the band succeeded in effortlessly blending their yin and yang of blues and techno - that "sweet country acid house music" - but Too Sick To Pray sees them on fire. The spirit of Hank Williams is more present than the first verse's namedrop, inspiring lyrics of defiant deathbed faith as the music spirals into a perfect mesh of slide guitar and 21st-century (ish) production.

The pace doesn't let up with Mansion On The Hill, one of Alabama 3's shortest and most dance-influenced efforts. There's not a whole lot of religion in a song about housebreaking, but it's hard not to enjoy a shouted refrain of "The meek ain't gon' inherit SHIT."

There's some very nice balladry, too, in Dylan-referencing Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlife and Walking In My Sleep, which, once you get past the oddly off-form rambling of The Very Reverend Dr D Wayne Love (aka Jake Black) at the start, shows itself to be a downbeat little corker. Larry Love/Rob Spragg's hushed vocals have, at this stage of his life, hit the perfect blues pitch, croaky while still intact and filled with both frailty and venom. The first line is enough to send a shiver down your spine.

From there, it's a bizarre but splendid mix of acid raves (Cocaine Killed My Community) and whisky-fuelled country ballads (The Thrills Have Gone), plus a fantastic slice of good old-fashioned Christian rock - never thought I'd ever use those words in a positive light - in the sublime Wade Into The Water. Admittedly, the breakdown house cover of The Eagles' Hotel California may have been ill-advised. Some fans swear by it, but it is pretty bloody awful.

It's the only bad track on a funking great album, though. You couldn't ask for a much better finish than bible-bashing 2129, lyrically depraved techno thumper Strange and Rime Of The Ancient Mariner tribute Sinking..., which ends with a wonderful Beatles-esque horn outro and singalong of "It's gonna be all right." Quality.

I think La Peste is a great, great album.


Spotify link