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“Happy 30th to Pod but I’m Here to Obstinately Claim That Steve Albini is a Better Rock Frontman than Producer”


And it’s the song that never ends… it just goes on and on my friends… hey public it’s that stick-in-the-mud online road nail Dolby Disaster back, ready to flatten the tires of this otherwise cheery Pod anniversary cavalcade to declare that manning a microphone, and not a soundboard, was Steve Albini’s true calling.

You might say this would be especially ironic since he began his career as a record producer [1] in 1985, a mere four years after he formed his first band, Big Black. Wikipedia, as well, puts it specifically as “Since the early ’90s, Albini has been best known as a record producer” [2] [3]. What’s also confusing is that the guy is prolific, by and large, certainly in production and to an extent in musicianship as well with his latest band Shellac [4] [5] and his careers within the two roles extensively overlap.

One thing I noticed, though, is that with what I believe is the only exception in The Jesus Lizard, he never produced the same band on two consecutive albums. Pod was the first Breeders album and he handed that one in with his own fingerprints on it but then they’d move on to Mark Freegard for followup Last Splash, an album that would benchmark their commercial breakthrough and even receive better feedback than Pod from some critics [6]. The same trend is true with, as far as bands go off the top of my head, Pixies, Bush and Nirvana [7]. This should be contrasted staunchly against the general career habits of Brendan O’ Brien, whom I consider the premiere rock producer of all time for his live mixes and bona fide knack for album fluidity [8] [9] [10].

And then in terms of Albini’s high jinks as a guitarist and singer, I actually don’t readily gravitate to Big Black but within Rapeman, the final product of his toils started to play as a musical experience that was tight, lively, fun and memorable, even with a sense of humor, as well. One of the songs is entitled “Kim Gordon’s Panties” [11] and another extensively expresses his desire to beat somebody up, culminating in the spoken-word portion of “I suppose I’m not that threatening presently but wail ’til I start Nautilus”.

Shellac is a band he formed in ’92 to a higher notoriety level than that of Rapeman, which to me isn’t deserved but also isn’t without a certain amount of muscle to support its credo. The band has made several albums, a couple of which border on “concept albums” either for 10-minute openers or pervasive diatribe against ex-girlfriends, but debut At Action Park plays as its undisputed classic. The guitar sound is almost impossibly rusty and voluminous, Albini unleashes at one point the lines “If I were a miner / I tell you what / I’d be a da** good one”, and mostly “The Idea of North” bubbles forth as an ostensibly shocking glimpse into Albini’s unadorned songwriting skills, juxtaposing several simple, but effective and well-place riffs against lyrics that regard winter warming procedures toward something truly anthropological and, I’d say, even career-defining. More than anything, I’d say, Albini is at his best when he’s at his most cathartic, a disposition way more precipitous sound generation than sound management.

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[1] Yeah I know he prefers to be called an “engineer” which is part of why I think the guy’s pretty much an a**hole.

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[2] This is even debatable as in prominent form he handled the complete of the first Pixies full-length Surfer Rosa in 1988 (which big surprise he made a regular habit of insulting).

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[3] Further along these lines, it happens to be kind of a shi**y album, despite having a bunch of great songs on it.

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[4] And in between Big Black and Shellac he bodied the ever reverent Rapeman, which happens to be my favorite of all.

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[5] Kurt Cobain was particularly complimentary of Rapeman in a letter to Melvins drummer Dale Crover following a show of theirs he’d imbibed.

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[6] Let’s be real: Last Splash is a WAY better album than Pod and what’s more sounds way less like it was a painful expedition to record. I’d even probably rank Mountain Battles and All Nerve ahead of Pod within the Breeders pantheon.

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[7] This is obviously with the latter providing a particularly tragic saga in accompaniment.

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[8] O’Brien would even help shoulder the instrumentation load, helming the pipe organ on Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” and various keyboards on The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker.

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[9] O’Brien stood in on The Black Crowes’ only listenable album, their debut.

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[10] It’s also through O’Brien’s influence that we have “Better Man” as a release at all, as it’s a song Vedder had written prior to joining Pearl Jam and didn’t want to issue to the world in any right, until the final days of Vitalogy recording.

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[11] But remember folks, now that women dress in butt-hugging pants in public it’s rude to discuss their anatomies.

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