“All of your friends are cunts/ Your mother is a ballpoint pen thief.” How you feel about this lyric will largely determine how you feel about Mclusky Do Dallas: the second and best album by maniacally skronking Welsh shit-stirrers Mclusky, released 20 years ago today. When forming a verdict, it helps to hear the words as sung by guitarist and songwriter Andy Falkous, tuneful enough yet coursing with a barely contained combustible ire, as if he’s just getting started on a rant and is savoring every insult — which, of course, he is — backed up by Jon Chapple’s almost comedic descending bassline and Matthew Harding’s caveman thwacks. Maybe “Gareth Brown Says” strikes you as sophomoric or, owing to the use of the c-word, offensive. But if you’re 18-year-old me, you find this and so many other Mcluskly tracks completely fucking hilarious.
It helped that the band was just crushing it. We would probably not be revisiting Mclusky Do Dallas today if all it had to offer was wild-eyed shit talk and scathing taunts. The attitude was all part of a larger package laser-targeted at fans of scraping, aggressive indie rock. The album was recorded by champion edgelord Steve Albini, one of the founding fathers of Mclusky’s cantankerous sound (and disposition), and glimpses of his most storied clients jump out immediately. Within the first three songs you’ve got a Nirvana-worthy power chord progression driving “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” Jesus Lizard-esque skree enshrouding “No New Wave No Fun,” and one of those finger-in-socket high-pitched guitar leads popularized by the Pixies on “Collagen Rock,” a song riffing on all the more accessible alternatives to Mclusky one might have encountered on the campus airwaves in 2002.
Pixies were probably the most common reference point for Mclusky in those days, given how violently these songs whipped around and how deliriously Falkous barked his lyrics. There was also the matter of all the hooks he smuggled into the clamor. “They’re just pop songs,” Falkous later said of the trio’s collected works, “especially Mclusky Do Dallas.” This is exactly the kind of absurd unfalsifiable claim people in abrasive rock bands always make about their music when they can back it up with even an iota of melody, but it’s not entirely untrue where these guys are concerned. Is it ridiculous to call Mclusky a pop band? Yes. Were their songs consistently catchy as hell? Also yes. So the Pixies comparisons were by no means off-base — but also, the Pixies never came up with song titles like “The World Loves Us And Is Our Bitch.”
Falkous, an Englishman based in Cardiff, met Harding in 1996 at their mutual workplace, a call center called Anglian Windows. They formed a band called Best (named after original Beatles drummer Pete Best) with Harding’s old bandmate Geraint Bevan on bass. After a year of gigging, Bevan departed and the other two members persuaded Chapple, whose band Myrtle had once gigged with Best, to take over on bass. Naturally, the band later concocted a more colorful origin story wherein Falkous and Harding encountered Chapple pissing on their tent at the Reading Festival. After releasing a three-song EP in 1999, they changed their name to Mclusky and released their debut album My Pain And Sadness Is More Sad And Painful Than Yours. (“Medium Is The Message” — now there’s a pop song.)
The momentum was sufficient to land them at Electrical Audio in Chicago, an ocean away from their city of residence but spiritually right at home. With Albini behind the boards, Mclusky tracked some of history’s wildest, hookiest, most uproarious noise-punk songs and named the completed package after a famous porno. Some of the album is shrill and unrelenting: the wave of mutilation “Dethink To Survive,” the perpetual collapse “Clique Application Form,” the chest-clenching meltdown “Chases.” The mid-tracklist comedown “Fuck This Band” swings the other direction entirely, Falkous whispering knowing critiques of his own group over Chapple’s hypnotic walking bassline: “Fuck this band ’cause they swear too much/ It’s an obvious ploy, and irresponsible.” Mostly, though, Mclusky Do Dallas powerfully triangulates noise, pop, and gallows humor, slightly tweaking the proportions each time around as if pursuing the same nasty endorphin rush from every imaginable angle.
The thrills begin immediately with the anxious runaway-train energy of “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” on which a breathless Falkous screams non-sequiturs like “And I’m fearful, I’m fearful, I’m fearful of flying/ And flying is fearful of me!” between jarring low-end blasts. They continue all the way through grand finale “Whoyouknow,” a high-speed churn that resolves into a rousing sing-along about a heart “gone the color of Coca-Cola,” replete with jaunty backing vocals that evoke the Beatles shouting harmonies into the same microphone. In between are gems like the unhinged freakout “Day Of The Deadringers” (which builds from tense to extremely tense) and the melodious, misanthropic, explosive “Alan Is A Cowboy Killer.” Perhaps best of all is “To Hell With Good Intentions,” a speeding tank of a song headed straight to hell, on which references to torching restaurants and taking “more drugs than a touring funk band” are punctuated by cries of “My love is bigger than your love/ Sing it!”
Any and all pop moves like that were delivered in jest, from behind a dense layer of cynicism, which is fine. To break character would be to undermine the Mclusky operation. There are plenty of other bands who’d be happy to provide you with a heartwarming expression of gratitude. (Some of those bands got paid, I heard!) Mclusky served a different purpose. They were an outlet for raging sarcasm and visceral impact, offering a miserable-fuck headspace that would be deeply unhealthy to inhabit all the time (see: any unmoderated online forum) but sure is fun to visit from time to time. Mclusky Do Dallas didn’t exactly conquer the world in 2002, but it’s interesting to imagine how these screeds would be received in a world where “Michael Caine doesn’t follow you!” sounds like a reference to social media clout and not delusions of a celebrity stalker.
We will find out how Mclusky play in a modern context soon enough — not that they’ve ever really gone away. The band’s initial run ended after one more album, 2004’s also-great The Difference Between Me And You Is That I’m Not On Fire, by which point Jack Egglestone had taken over on drums. (“She Will Only Bring You Happiness” — now there’s a pop song.) Falkous and Egglestone then launched Future Of The Left, essentially a continuation of Mclusky without Chapple, who now found Mclusky’s schtick distasteful. The band kept up a steady release schedule through the mid-2010s before giving way to a Mclusky “reunion” under the name Mclusky*, which amounted to the final Future Of The Left lineup playing Mclusky songs. Two summers ago Falkous revealed plans for a new Mclusky album, and this morning the band announced their first North American shows in 18 years. If that doesn’t excite you at least a little bit, well, your mother is a ballpoint pen thief, and you know what else.