Mission of Burma
The Sound The Speed The Light
Conventional wisdom has it that band reunions are a pointless exercise in nostalgia, empty masturbation to please the hardcore fans and keep the ol bank balance ticking over. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Mission of Burma comprehensively debunked this theory by returning in 2002 after a 20 year hiatus with a stunning live show shortly followed by their triumphant comeback album ONoffON. Excellent, if slightly overlong, it was the appetiser for the delicious feast for the senses that was 2006s The Obliterati, a twitchy metallic monster of an album that was every bit as essential as any of the work theyd produced in their prime. Now comes their third post-reunion album, The Sound The Speed The Light, and its a very different beast from anything theyve done before. More subtle than their previous work, the album is divided into four sets of three songs, each conveying a different mood. The result is a slow, nuanced album that is far less immediate than its predecessors.
Youd never guess this from the first song though. The absurdly titled 1, 2, 3, Partyy! careens out of the gate with wildly crashing drums and jagged punk guitar, grabbing the listeners attention immediately with one of the catchiest, silliest songs Burma have written. Clint Conleys lyrics are as wryly amusing as ever as he sets out to prove that despite their legendary reputation in po-faced indie circles Mission of Burma can on occasion be Very Funny Indeed. A more-or-less straightforward punk song, its a goofy opener to an album that really doesnt follow its lead at all.
Possession starts off with Bob Westons wibbly wobbly tape loops playing over Roger Millers spiky, angular guitar and Peter Prescotts military drumming before the song settles down to a juddering bass-heavy rhythm. The contrast between Conleys sweet tuneful vocals and occasional desperate bellow works well in the context of the song, which seems to be about a possessive lover, although as ever its hard to tell what any Mission of Burma song is actually about. The bands distinctive and unmistakeable sound is fully evident as the song takes several unexpected turns during its four and a half minute runtime, leaving the listener thoroughly pummelled by the end.
The song segues smoothly into Blunder, which begins with serene guitar before exploding into a vintage Burma lurching riff over which Prescott, a man who could sing about adorable puppies and still sound like he wants a fight, hoarsely bellows his trademark cryptic punning lyrics. Its an excellent song with some memorable lyrical imagery, proving that when it comes to straight-ahead punk rock songs the band havent slowed down at all.
Forget Yourself signals the beginning of the next set of songs and is slow, calm and tender. Its the first real misstep of the album, the awkward clunky lyrics doing nothing to redeem a forgettable song. From here the album is infuriatingly uneven, zipping from fantastic songs that are the equal of anything the band wrote in their heyday to instantly forgettable exercises in blandness. For every glittering highlight like the beautiful melancholic tenderness of Feed, a song sung from the perspective of a jilted lover, the ornery grumpiness of the ironically named Good Cheer or the belligerent hostility of So Fuck It theres a Comes Undone or One Day We Will Live There to balance out the awesomeness with blandness. The slower songs tend to meander past the listener without making any real impact, leaving it to the faster punk numbers to grab you by the scruff of the neck. It makes for a frustratingly uneven listen, making it impossible to recommend the album wholeheartedly. The albums highlights make up for its failures, but only just, and for newcomers to Mission of Burma this really isnt the best place to start. Theyd be better off with Signal, Calls, and Marches or The Obliterati instead. The fact that Mission of Burma are still experimenting with their sound three albums in to their reunion instead of regurgitating their former glories is laudable and provides a template that more bands should follow. Its just a shame that this time their attempts at experimentation havent been wholly successful.