When Alan Sparhawk switches between Low and Retribution
Gospel Choir, does he have to change in a phone booth? It’s a fair question, because RGC’s louder,
wilder sound stands in roughly the same relation to Low as Superman to Clark
Kent. It’s not that the cape and the lack of glasses will totally fool you
either, since there’s plenty of Low’s suppressed intensity tucked into the
crevices. Yet there’s a superpowered kick to this second in the series. Sparhawk
and company (that’s Steve Garrington on bass and Eric Pollard on drums) are
leaping over tall stacks of Marshalls,
and if they are not faster than speeding bullets, they are awfully damned
The first Retribution Gospel Choir seemed more like a side
project, recasting two songs that had previously appeared on Drums and Guns in home-wrecking
amplified Neil Young style. 2, by
contrast, offers ten new songs, all created with this ultimate vehicle in mind.
It’s a stretch to imagine cuts like “Hide It Away,” “White Wolf” and,
especially, “Working Hard” in acoustic terms. They seem to have sprung, fully
formed, out of the hard rock idiom.
There’s a bit of commercial metal sheen, in fact, to some of
these songs, a slick anthemic-ness that gives off a faint whiff of 1970s arena
rockers like Def Leppard. You hear it loudest in the album’s first handful of
tracks, everything from “Hide It Away” to “Working Hard,” not exactly as a
negative, but as something that might bother you if it got any more pronounced.
And then things turn chaotic, disheveled, gloriously, passionately dissonant in
“Poor Man’s Daughter,” which has the raw force of belief that characterizes all
the best Low songs – plus a maelstrom of guitar battering. “Electric Guitar”,
the disc’s longest song, is ever better, starting in a smoulder and gradually
gaining force and momentum. The guitar chords have an almost physical heft to
them, the drums a battering resonance. Sparhawk’s vocals echo and hang in an
enormous, viscerally-felt sonic space. The whole thing feels grander, bigger,
more urgent than a rock song should be. Turn it up because quiet isn’t the new
loud anymore. Loud is.
Standout Tracks: “Hide It Away,” “Electric Guitar” “Poor Man’s Daughter” JENNIFER KELLY