The Brian Jonestown Massacre Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Their eleventh full-length attempt at a place in respected rock lineage.

Matthew Horton 2010

Anton Newcombe, native Californian and barely-hinged frontman of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, finds it tough to get taken seriously. A reputation assembled over several years at the psych-rock coalface was in tatters after the release of notorious 2004 rockumentary DiG!, which saw the band and pals (well, erstwhile pals) The Dandy Warhols falling out with gusto in a riot of fisticuffs and colossal hubris.

Since then it’s been half-a-dozen years of damage limitation, to image as well as high-living Newcombe's vital organs. They bring it on themselves, shedding guitarists like Spinal Tap misplace drummers, but now The Brian Jonestown Massacre are ditching the farce (and, reportedly, the reservoirs of booze) and presenting their eleventh full-length attempt at a place in respected rock lineage. A thorny old beast, it’s got a chance.

Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? was recorded in Iceland and Berlin, representing a broadening of horizons the music almost matches. Although familiar garage-rock tropes worm their way through the grubby stomp of Tunger Hnifer and buzzy thrum of quasi-grebo workout Our Time, there are real jolts in Detka! Detka! Detka!’s gypsy mandolin and White Music’s Gregorian chants.

The quest for sonic breadth goes far-out with opener Tempo 116.7 (Reaching for Dangerous Levels of Sobriety) apparently trying to nail Balearic bhangra. No harm in experimenting, and further outlying lands are explored with This Is the First of Your Last Warning (Icelandic), krautrock with, yes, an Icelandic vocal courtesy of Unnur Andrea Einarsdottir. To be honest, this – and the macho Someplace Else Unknown – is uncomfortably redolent of Kasabian’s ersatz rock mysticism, hackneyed where it should be mind-expanding.

Nevertheless, Newcombe occasionally sets a standard. Let’s Go F****** Mental conjures a dub football chant, then loopily slaps a melodica on top, but even this is out-weirded by 10-minute closer Felt Tipped Pictures Of UFOs: to an Orb-like bliss-out, Newcombe cuts up John Lennon’s apology for the “bigger than Jesus” farrago then squashes it with a ranting Liverpudlian lady, splenetically unimpressed with Imagine’s sentiments. It would be funny – it sort of is – if it wasn’t so pretty.

And this is the crux of Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? It’s a melee of styles and disparate ideas – some inspired, some falling woefully short. If its sheer reach borders on folly, it’s still enjoyable as hell.

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