Anton Newcombe is probably better known for his perennial drug addictions rather than the lysergic sheen that he has created over his musical career. Documentary film ‘DiG!’ may have candidly cemented his destructive temperament on a par with that of David Hasselhoff’s crapulent YouTube clips, but the now sober Anton has found a certain perspective in a rhetorical line of questioning.
The truth is, images cannot be erased; but perceptions can change. ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’ sees the image of Newcombe flushed with colour and clarity, giving Brian Jonestown Massacre’s eleventh studio album a somewhat uncharacteristic cohesiveness to it. As far as idiosyncrasies go, the neo-psychedelic nature of their previous two decades’ worth still colours their music; however, there is a focus in ‘Sgt. Pepper?’ that has not been seen in Anton’s formerly dilated pupils before.
Whereas previous work just became valiant effort to survive, ‘Sgt. Pepper’ is something of an ode to his longevity and a distance well travelled. Waking up to ‘Tempo 116.7’, the album’s opening track is something of a sonic voyage through tribal wastelands awash with leftfield drum rhythms and layers of fuzzy reverb, only to meander into the industrial dirges of Krautrock-inspired ‘Tunger Hnifur’.
As their previous efforts attest, Brian Jonestown Massacre are not one for shying away from letting their influences be known – no matter how random. Whereas ‘Methodrone’ was closely tuned to the shoegaze scene of the time, and ‘Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request’ ironically became a pastiche of The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, and The Byrds 60’s psych, the vernacular of ‘Let’s Go Fucking Mental’’s football stadium chant is something of a misnomer is the influences department. Think Fat Les dribbling into his pint after his team has lost and you are three songs in and already questioning Newcombe’s sobriety when committing this to record.
But even if narcotics are not identifiable from blood samples, their twisted effect is still somewhat palpable; and similarly with the influences: ‘This Is The First Of Your Last Warning (Icelandic)’ trips between PiL and Primal Scream circa Screamadelica; and ‘This Is The One Thing We Did Not Want To Happen’ reads from the same score as Joy Divisions ‘She’s Lost of Control’.
However, ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’ is far from a hodgepodge of rewrites, and sees Anton’s Brian Jonestown Massacre finally live up to the expectations of their peers with an album that is more conscious in the portrayal of his actual talents than any of their previous releases.