Picks and Pans Review: Holy Money

updated 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Swans

Here's a theory: After a horrible day at work or school, people's musical desires fall into one of two categories. One group just wants to hear something pleasant and upbeat that will make them dance around the room and forget their troubles. The other group wants to hear something truly grating and morose that provides the perfect accompaniment for smashing plates or wallowing in depression. These releases provide ideal alternatives. Jones's third U.S. album (Elektra) overflows with comforting and/or peppy tunes, 10 songs with the basic message that life Isn't so bad and we all have the potential to make it even better. The Swans, a New York-based octet, offer a different effect with their seven-song fourth album (Jem/PVC). On the opening cut, A Hanging, lifeless voices chant in harmony, raising specters of a slave gang in hell as vicious drumbeats and gongs sound like some monstrous mechanical taskmaster. Over it all, lead singer Michael Gira, singing so low and slowly that he sounds as if he's on the wrong speed, delivers such lyrics as "Dear God in heaven...I'll hang myself." Though the outlooks they reflect couldn't be more different, the albums actually have a lot in common. They each represent a limited viewpoint with expert skill. It would take a truly hard heart to feel unmoved by Jones's impassioned antidrug plea, Little Bit of Snow, and no one can produce more joyful sounds from a synthesizer than he. Similarly, few bands rival the Swans when it comes to black humor: A Hanging fades into a tune with the lyrics, "I'm sorry. I won't do it again." Both albums also suffer from limitations. Jones starts to sound like the cliché-monger of the universe after a barrage of songs with such lyrics as "No one is an island/ On that you can depend." The Swans, on the other hand, could try anyone's patience by singing, "I love you/ I'm worthless/ Stick your knife in me/ Walk away." Such obsession makes you wonder if these one-note albums really make sense. Then again, some days you just have to get those weird vibes out of your system.

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