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LOW – The Great Destroyer (Rough Trade)

Posted: February 10th, 2005, by Alex McChesney

“Tonight the monkey dies.” We’ve only just been introduced to this album and already it has announced its intention to murder a simian. Despite the mildly comedic image (sorry, ape-lovers), “Monkey” is a dark, brooding, and fairly noisy opener, which sets the tone for the rest of the album and suggests that it’s the monkey on their collective backs – the one telling people that they are a one-trick band who can only write sad, glacial-slow dirges that you have to strain to hear – that Low are gunning for. This is their rawk album.

The minimalist songwriting, and ear for melody are all present and correct, of course. The Great Destroyer isn’t a radical departure, just the inevitable arrival at a destination that attentive fans may have spotted on the horizon since 2001’s Things We Lost In The Fire, where the latent desire to turn up and rock out started to make itself felt in their music. However, where on …Fire, and follow-up Trust, the more energetic songs served to punctuate and add to the record’s emotional range, The Great Destroyer seems like a homogenous mush, and even more contemplative moments like “Silver Rider” and “Broadway, So Many People” get smothered in inappropriate overdrive.

It’s not a total loss, however. “Cue The Strings” allows both our ears and Alan Sparhawk’s distortion pedal a half-time break via some minimal electronics and one of the best applications of the patented Low vocal harmonies in recent memory, and “When I Go Deaf” is as sweet a folk-song as any they’ve written, at least until the ironic rock-out ending. But where, in another context, a handful of songs on this album could stand out as proud highlights in the Low canon, they are smothered by turgid bedfellows that are content to turn up, fuzz away for three minutes, and wander off again. Where Low used to move, here they just numb.

I don’t want to give away the ending or anything, but the “Great Destroyer” of the title is Time. At least, according to closing track “Walk Into The Sea”. It’s almost as if the band feel the need to justify the death of “old” Low, which, of course, they don’t. That they’ve embraced change should be commended in a world where so many make a living from rehashing past glories. One can only hope that The Great Destroyer is just a slightly uninspiring lay-by on the road to somewhere more interesting.


Alex McChesney

Alex was brought up by a family of stupid looking monkeys after being lost in the deep jungles of Paisley. Teaching him all their secret conga skills (as well as how to throw barrels at plumbers), Alex was able to leave for the bright lights of Glasgow where adventure struck him and he needed all his conga skills to save the world and earn the hand of a lovely Texan princess. He now keeps a low profile alphabeticising his record collection and making sock monkeys in the likenesses of his long lost family.


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