by Jay Armstrong
These four a.m. drowning in coffee with the occasional upper nightcap can take some effort getting my “queer shoulder to the wheel,” as Ginsberg once said–of course he was talking of something completely unrelated to my experience in this moment but since everything is about me in this narcissistic universe while everyone else is tucked off to bed with work stress dreams circling their minds, I find no qualms on this side of the screen taking ole Al’s sarcasm and shaping it into a slackers rallying cry. I start Burning in Paradise over for the fifth time, things are boiling internally to near lecture, “you have got to focus!” I am failing. The second song plays and I miss it completely, I’m zeroed back in on the third, over and over–restart–and over–restart–again. I’m hellbent on a straight start to finish listen. Shut down my phone which I had been absently thumbing. No help. Stop the album for a moment and try a few deep breaths. I have shelved this review for three weeks now, it comes out tonight and I have yet to give it the full focus first through I have been waiting years excited in anticipation for. Then like a zen flash of introspected brilliance my eyes catch that highlighted darker grey tab, the night sky parts; stars, universe, and all, I am blinded eternally by an understanding as comforting as it is timeless. Don’t let the two syllable words fool you. I am an idiot.
“The Tough Shits have me once more daydreaming of owning an El Camino just so I can blast this album on repeat blazing across west Texas on the way to California.”
Chalk one more up for the glory days of vinyl. You can bet your ass Greil Marcus never had to worry about whether he got too stoned to focus on the second track of a record. Of course, Marcus would still be typing for another hour or two on the opening line in juxtaposition with the guitars and the timeline of tradition; always so serious, that guy never lightens up enough to grasp the soul of the moment. So the issue, as it turns out, has not been lack of focus–though one could still point fingers towards my being too stoned (or too stupid–likely both–whatevs)–”Shuffle” has been selected on playback in itunes and the track one to track three jump is a random one. Thank god when I finally do get to hear “Late Bloomer,” despite the four times believed previously scattered thoughts had stolen, this time it sounds ideal. There should be some serious gremlins-as-pets guidelines keeping me from the one-hitter with a deadline like this. Life is hard y’all. Hi mom.
So crisis averted, now lets get down to the job. Let me start by saying the easiest way to go about describing Burning in Paradise properly would be to pull up the Harlem review from a few weeks ago and imagine the complete opposite on every single malfunction that album has destroying its potential. My unapologetic love for The Tough Shits and what they have offered under the guise of growth through this album–specifically “Cry 4 U“– is damn near mirroring what I was expecting with Oh Boy. At least one of the two bands showed up for their long overdue album. Anyone who has spent time throughout the years listening as I vomit my opinion while chain-smoking can vouch for my inability to hold this band loosely; I have kept them close to my chest and Burning in Paradise makes me glad I did.
Change is not always inevitable–just ask The Spits or Ramones–for most though being in a band is a reflection of an evolution of time felt by each member. Burning in Paradise takes the shape of those freewheeling into middle-age wasting less energy looking for a party and more time laying low at the bar. The edges are still there; gruffer, arrogant, rock n roll with less show of it. In a way The Tough Shits are tougher than ever. For those whose wild times quietly resign to be inflected, shown clearly on hardlined faces, in the dead sparkle of don’t tread on me eyes, is a need for a band in whose reflection ones own experiences become idealistic. Burning in Paradise is as altruistic as it is necessary; I highly doubt there is a single selfless thought which created this album; there is no greater good any band out of Philadelphia will ever humble themselves before; the same though could be said for the Hells Angels who when kept ever away from the magnifying glass of honest appraisal of their real actions remain monuments to the broad shouldered, take me or leave me bastards within us all. This album is a testament for the cause whether intentional or not.
A band cannot disappear for almost a decade and not be judged in contrast. When the output is yearly, growth implied is obvious, trajectory mere guesses at best, loyalty through proxy sustained; with this much space though one is left to wonder if a new base will be forged as they fully attempt to resurface. Will the fickle tastes of time bring back those once appreciative of the band? I believe so. Burning in Paradise may lack the huge chanting triumphant choruses which testified for their initial significance, those factors still remain underscored present and notable with less hoorah about it while the grit of the overall is stronger than ever. The on the sleeve humor has new depth, there is context now; the band, the sound, the heart, fully real and realized. At the end of the day this is an album which disconnects the brakes, brazenly committing to the long drive out of town into tomorrow with forward facing defined definitive focus. At least as listener this is the interpretation we are left with. If they tour hard on this album, Burning in Paradise could easily replace everything we thought we knew before about The Tough Shits, finally setting them up with the longstanding place of importance some of us have been championing for them since day one.
Now on the the third time through since the ignoring track two debacle, I should probably say one song or the next is worth grabbing hold of and keeping tight. Each listen has found my heart skipping double time through audible pheromone inspiration on a different batch of tracks so if anything remains tried and true with The Tough Shits it would be the ever shifting appreciation never pinned down to a precise fragment. Their self-titled had me ignoring everything other than “Holding a Seance” And “Hombre de la Cocaina” for like a month–we were younger then–now those are probably the weakest connections felt when playing through. It is worth noting though that “Babes of the Abyss” is the strongest new look from the band out of how it shifts seventeen directions in less than two and a half minutes; the lead seems to be drunk soloing the entire time and it works while the vocals never settle as they demand one moment and plead the next, teetering between the two all the way through the finish. “Here Comes the Moon” will probably be the favorite for those revisiting the band looking for old tricks with a new shine.
The Tough Shits have me once more daydreaming of owning an El Camino just so I can blast this album on repeat blazing across west Texas on the way to California. Overall verdict: Burning in Paradise must be immersed in, an experience as a whole which rises above all condescending criticism, it magnetizes in waves of perfection prepared to climb the “here we are now entertain us” modus operandi of the current stasis felt as we seemingly stretch and yawn from the past couple back-building years. The corpse of Rock n Roll is reanimating once more in a big way. The band, this album, are not saviors of anything but if art reflects life and all that then we have before us the perfect testament of things certainly looking up for our niche lifestyles in this quasi-anarchic time.
The record is being put out through Burger Records. The release show is tonight in Philadelphia at JB’s with Trash Knife and Joe Jack Talcum (The Dead Milkmen).
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