Shrag – Canines (Fortuna Pop)
By Scott Creney
I should have had this review written weeks ago, but I’ve been waiting until I could listen to the album and hear it for what it was. See, for 11 days back in February I knew Shrag as intimately as one could know them without actually being, you know, intimate. Great folks, but it’s hard to think of someone as brilliant when you’ve seen them pick their nose for a week straight.
See, I think there’s a direct correlation between distance and fandom. I might think David Mitchell’s a brilliant writer, but his wife probably sees him as some dipshit who always leaves his socks in the living room. And for all I know Angela Carter used to wet the bed every night. Nobody sleeping next to Angela Carter was going to call her a genius.
But enough time has passed that I can listen clearly. And you know what? I like it more than I thought I would. I’m not sure the UK will release a better guitar record all year.
Canines as in teeth, as in feral dogs, and it’s entirely appropriate. Forget everything you ever thought about the Shrag. This band bears little resemblance, their former selves burned on a funeral pyre. There’s an edge to this music, a desperation that feels real. The anger hits; the sadness hurts. There’s nothing cute about this band, not anymore.
And that’s one of the cleaner ones, covered in bruises instead of blood. The album opens with a swath of noise, and it goes on to tell stories of exhaustion and burnout, lifetimes of self-deception that turn, over the course of the album, into epiphanies. With Canines, Helen King proves herself one of the finest lyricists in all of Britain. The images are always vivid, the language original and eminently quotable. “I think about death when you genuflect,” indeed.
Guitarist Bob Brown plays a less nimble-fingered Marr to Helen King’s Moz, tossing out as many melodic hooks as he can come up with to offset her sour barbs. The combination works beautifully.
Canines is a physical record in every sense. Obsessed with the body like poet Bill Knott at his most powerful, it’s filled with stomping sexiness and erotic hate. But let’s be clear: Canines is a triumph of content over form. It breaks no new ground for rock music. But when the content is as great as this, originality doesn’t matter so much. Plus, not only is ‘Tendons In the Night’ the best song Britpop never birthed, it could hold its own with anything off This Nation’s Saving Grace. How many bands can you say that about?
This album is brilliant. It drags a bit around the middle, but so what. So do I and so do you. It begins in noise and ends in tears. ‘Chasing Consumations’ blurs the line between sex and politics, between insanity and oblivion.
In Canines I can hear echoes of last year’s riots, of forced austerity, a hollow Britain seen through raw, reddening, and rubbed-out eyes. Put the stereo speakers in your window and turn them up. It will make a perfect soundtrack for London’s pending Olympic clusterfuck.