Big Black – “Songs About Fucking” (1987)

I’ve probably picked up various CD and vinyl copies of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking at least two dozen times over the years, but never pulled the trigger until a few weeks ago after finding a used CD copy over at Easy Street. I’m not sure why that day was any different and I felt like it was time to see what the hell Big Black was all about, but I should learn to listen to that little voice in my head more often, because this is one killer album.

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If I had to pick a genre, or more precisely sort of make one up, to describe Big Black in general and Songs About Fucking specifically it would be industrial punk. If I had to pick one word to describe the music itself it would be relentless. The band’s destinctive sounds come from three places, at least it does to me. The use of drum machines instead of live drumming gives the music that unrelenting, manic, pounding, factory-like quality, like it’s the noise of an assembly line instead of drum beats. Albini’s use of notched metal guitar picks ensures that the guitar doesn’t sound like any other guitar you’ve every heard in your life, giving it a metallic, repetitive quality. And finally we have Albini’s voice, full of anger and disgust, often singing about things that are angry and disgusting, with it’s own grating, raspy quality, sometimes so distorted you can barely understand it at all (example – “Ergot”). It’s the perfect package for an industrial punk rock outfit.

Steve Albini remaked in an interview that he was particularly pleased with Side A of Songs About Fucking, which includes the first six tracks, and I have to say that I agree with him 100%. That first side is all about power and intensity and noise and machines boring holes into your skull, though I must confess to a twinge of disappointment when I realized that my favorite song on the album is in fact a cover of Kraftwerk’s “Das Model,” not because I have anything against the German technophiles but simply because I assumed it was an original (the album closes with another cover, Cheap Trick’s “He’s a Whore”). It’s sandwiched between my two other favorites (both originals), “The Power of Independent Trucking” and “Bad Penny.” “Bad Penny” in particular has an insane beat, coupled with some crazy lyrics.

I think I fucked your girlfrield once,
Maybe twice, I don’t remember.
Then I fucked all your friends’ girlfriends,
Now they hate you.
— “Bad Penny”

I would like
To wrap your hair
Around your neck
Like a noose.

I would like
To wrap your legs
Around my neck
Like a lock.
— “Precious Thing”

Big Black got a lot of flack over the years about their lyrics, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. They seemed to lack any filters, singing about pretty much anything from the banal to the disgusting. They were accused of being racist, homophobic, and misogynistic (remember, kids, the album is called Songs About Fucking after all…). But frankly the lyrics just don’t seem all that serious to me, and just because the words seem superficially “bad” doesn’t mean that we should be taking them at face value or indicative of some deep message. But then again, maybe I’m missing it completely and Big Black were a bunch of dirtbags. I can’t be sure. Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane liked it too, though, so that makes me feel a bit better about it.

What I can be sure of is that I liked Songs About Fucking enough that I went out and picked up a few more Big Black CDs, and I’ve enjoyed those as well. So if you’re looking for something intense and a bit dark, Songs About Fucking is a solid choice.

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