Bringing in the String Section with Michael Gira
Aug 14 2012
Michael Gira is not known for making tepid, lightweight albums. From the slo-mo bludgeoning of 1984's Cop to the stentorian beauty of 1987's Children of God to the near-symphonic collages of 1996's Soundtracks for the Blind, his work fronting Swans exudes a superhuman intensity. Even the band's recent reunion has transcended expectations. Nostalgia gets obliterated by daring new material that flaunts amp-smoking crescendos, extended percussive acrobatics, and weary, hallucinatory grace.
But a glaring aberration sullies Gira's largely impeccable canon: Released in 1989, The Burning World was Swans' first and last waltz with a corporate major label. Produced by Bill Laswell and cloaked in ill-fitting ethno-pop frippery (bring in the tabla player!), the maudlin contents lack the group's signature rhythmic wallop and droop beneath affected, ponderous vocals. It's as if a boardroom of Michelob-swilling execs repackaged one of America's boldest musical forces as some slick hybrid of Leonard Cohen and Dead Can Dance. Only instead of seducing the masses, the disc promptly flopped when Uni, the MCA-related imprint behind the project, abruptly folded. To boot, Swans' detour into flat melancholia alienated longtime fans but bewitched countless goth kids, and Gira was saddled with an audience that couldn't quite comprehend him. Having licked his wounds and denounced the whole debacle, he soon formed his own record company, Young God, and staged a remarkable artistic recovery.
Still, The Burning World's dubious legacy persists. Gira was humble enough to recap his folly while gearing up for his most ambitious undertaking yet, Swans' triple-LP milestone, The Seer.
Michael Gira: I'm ready for my dental appointment.
Previously: Bringing in the String Section with Dan Bejar
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