The Burning of Rome
62 min • Surfdog/Membran • March 25, 2013
Some music needs to be heard to be understood … and Californian outfit The Burning Of Rome perfectly fall into that category, their new album With Us being a mix of Flaming Lips Pyschedlia, Queens Of The Stone Age garage rock and B Movie Horror Films, and even that description doesn’t do it justice. The band is a hotbed of influences, and each member of the band lets their different musical styles almost bleed through the music, which makes the collision of styles feel natural and organic.
Opener ‘Ballad Of An Onion Sprout’ is a small slice of vintage pop heaven, all intoxicating organs and shuffling drums, that stays on the right side of 1960s TV Theme tunes, with the stunning lyrical metaphor of something good sprouting out of a bitter situation. ‘Little Piranhas’ rocks along nicely, building beautifully into the rocking finale, in which the band sing,
Is this the best sex you ever had,
Is this the best book you ever read –
‘Cowboys And Cut Cigars’ is the first track that REALLY blows me away. A thumping slice of rock’n’roll, essentially the best song The Queens Of The Stone Age have never written, and by the chorus of
Braindead and paranoid,
Cowboys And Cut Cigars –
I was bouncing around the top deck of the bus like a loon. (Now, I know this isn’t a rarity, but I thought it was worth pointing out.) Remixed for the album by Paul Leary of grunge megaband The Butthole Surfers, it really is one of my rock tracks of the year.
First single ‘Norman Bates’ follows, and it’s a classic example of the band’s genius. The first track I heard, it starts as an indie/cabaret jaunt that then explodes into death metal screams and pounding guitars. It’s one of the most successful fusion of styles I’ve ever heard. One of the best things about The Burning Of Rome is that nothing they do seems forced. In the hands of anyone else, the fusion of styles would seem contrived, but with the different musical backgrounds and influences of the band members, the transition from style to style – sometimes, as with ‘Norman Bates’, mid song – is seamless and awe inspiring.
‘Wake Up Edamame’, with its godzilla riff and thrashing beat, almost sounds written to be performed live. As the song dips and the stars twinkle over it, I yearn to sing along to this live. Maybe one day. ‘Island’ continues the slightly creepy cabaret rock element started earlier in the album, inspired by the Aldous Huxley book of the same name, and there’s a killer melody in their too, under all the cakewalk.
The gorgeous ‘Why Can’t I Stop Killing My Friends’ pushes the bluegrass-cabaret envelope even further. Cited as one of the only personal songs on the album (slightly worrying, but still) what begins with distorted backwards vocals turns into a darkly comic and revealing little country-cabaret ballad, and it’s one of my favourite things here. More about letting go of relationships than actually killing his friends, it’s nice to hear the person under the stories elsewhere.
‘Audrey II’, an ode to the man-eating plant in the 1960 B-Movie Little Shop Of Horrors, is a gorgeous lilting waltz, with Seymour Krelboyne dialogue from the film perfectly placed over the top, to add extra bite. ‘Opus For Sleepwalking’ is an epic ballad, with shades of Prog Rock amongst the cabaret waltz and the beautiful Smashing Pumpkins-esque vocal. As further contrast, ‘The Universe Is Made Of Nonsense’ returns to uptempo psychadelic rock, and throws us out with a bang, making us realise that far too much importance is placed on futile things in our lives.
Now, for the piece de resistance. It’s a very brave thing indeed to end an album with 15 minutes of noise … but if anyone can do it and pull it off, it’s The Burning Of Rome. Originally intended as interludes to hold the album together, lead singer Adam Traub was listening to the 15 minutes of sonic pleasure and decided it should remain in tact, and I’m glad he did. It’s the perfect way to end an album of high musical experimentation and B-Movie homage. It has a meditative quality, as well as sounding like the score to an obscure Sci-Fi movie. It also ties in perfectly with the linear notes about Carl Sagan’s 1970s TV show Cosmos, which seems to have been a big influence on the album and its artwork.
Overall, the only way to describe this album would be to say its largely the sonic equivalent of Rob Zombie’s horror masterpiece House Of 1000 Corpses. It’s kitsch, it’s disturbing, it rocks harder than most albums I’ve heard in recent months, and I can just imagine Captain Spalding listening to it in his petrol station. And that’s possibly the biggest compliment I can give any album. If you like your bands quirky, arty, pop driven and just bloody good at what they do, then listen to With You immediately.