The reunion of the Pixies has made everything old in their back catalog new again, including the 4AD concert film and documentary in which Thom Yorke of Radiohead is asked whether there could be another band like the Pixies. After a sighing pause, he replies, “Well, you’d have to be that good.” The latest in what has proved to be a long line of pretenders to the Pixies’ throne is the Welsh trio McLusky, who come complete with the same explosive choruses and giggle-fit-inducing lyrics packaged in familiar two-minute doses. McLusky begs the question of whether it’s possible to be unique without being original.
In 2000, while the rock world was rediscovering garage rock as a commercial idea, McLusky dropped from the sky (well, Cardiff) with My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours. As it had been nearly a decade since Kurt Cobain called “Smells Like Teen Spirit” a “bad Pixies rip-off,” at least one could grant McLusky points for letting the bandwagon go well by before jumping on it. Stranger than singer-guitarist Andy Falkous’ uncanny Black Francis impression is the Kim Deal simulation by Falkous and bassist Jon Chapple. On “Friends Stoning Friends,” when Falkous coos, “Jonny No. 1 is a son of gun,” it’s shocking how much he sounds like Deal … until his voice cracks into Francis’ squeaky growl. He even manages to get the holler right on “Whiteliberalonwhiteliberalaction.” Musically, the album slides into simplistic and obvious Imperial Teen territory; being “that good” takes an oddball approach far beyond the short, hard, fast formula the Pixies made look easy. Although the chorus of “Friends Stoning Friends” announces “God damn it, ‘cos everyone’s a hero,” the sarcastic delivery saves them.
Produced by onetime Pixies producer Steve “Don’t Call Me a Producer” Albini, McLusky Do Dallas is the sound of a band coming into its own. With the sounds of Big Black and Shellac breaking up the debut’s Pixie-aping stupidity, “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” roars the album to life with all the immediacy of Songs About Fucking. But, unlike Big Black, McLusky’s riot is a laugh riot. With the irresistible feel of a summer camp taunt, “To Hell With Good Intentions” goes, “My band is better than your band / We’ve got more songs than a song convention / Sing it!” The gingerly bass-driven lullaby “Fuck This Band” goes “Fuck this band / And their foolish pride / Which lets them think / They can get away with this.” “Alan Is a Cowboy Killer” gets one over on the Wedding Present’s “Loveslave” to great effect; the walking bass and odd guitar plucks leading into the chorus’s wall of guitars go a long way toward rounding out the album.
The Difference Between You and Me Is That I’m Not on Fire reveals McLusky owning every artist they’ve revered. With Albini and new drummer Jack Egglestone, they display swaggering confidence in a diverse program of stylistic touchstones. “Without MSG I Am Nothing” skewers Public Image Limited, pounding guitars and playground lyrics set to danceable death disco with phantom keyboards. The thumping power chords of the Shellac-like “That Man Will Not Hang” lead right into “She Will Only Bring You Happiness,” recalling Pavement’s Wowee Zowee ballads, but with muscles and harmonizing lyrics. They deconstruct early-’90s Fall with the stuttering attack “Kkkitchens, What Were You Thinking?” before nailing Nirvana with the album’s most straight-up two-chord punk song, “Falco vs. the Young Canoeist.” Comedy keeps the whole genre-devouring enterprise together — “Can he catch a fish, can he bring it in / can he get a boat, can he get a rod / can he even swim?” is belted out so tough that it’s possible to miss the irony. For their third album, McLusky tossed their heroes in a blender, remade them in their own image and showed why they just may be their heirs.