Big Night Music

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Big Night Music continued Shriekback's evolution from fringe weirdoes to unlikely pop stars. It was more accessible than anything they'd done before, and not by accident -- a conscious intent to reach for a wider audience is apparent even in the album's packaging, which pictures the band members on the cover for the first time, includes a long note from Shriekback to their fans, and gives credits for make-up, hair, and denim. The lush, organic production (by Gavin MacKillop) is a long, long way from the clattering psycho-funk of Tench, and Shriekback's distinctive drum programs have been entirely replaced by Martyn Barker's drums. ("Big Night Music is entirely free of drum machines," say the liner notes. "Shriekback have chosen to make a different kind of music -- one which exalts human frailty and the harmonious mess of nature over the simplistic reductions of our crude computers.") All this makes it tempting to dismiss this album, but that would be a mistake -- taken on its own terms, it's a vastly successful record. Its ten tracks explore a variety of new styles and the results include some of their best songs: "The Shining Path," an evocative moonlight serenade; "The Reptiles and I," with glassine synths echoing over a sinewy rhythm section; and "Sticky Jazz," which is funky in a joyful, floppy way and marks quite a change for the often sinister Shrieks. Barry Andrews, who handles all lead vocals for the first time, is not a great singer, but he manages; Barker shows impressive rhythmic versatility; and Dave Allen continues to be the band's anchor, providing dependable brilliance on the low end. Big Night Music accomplished everything it set out to do, finding success with both record buyers and critics, but was quickly followed by Allen's departure from the band.

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