Rowland S. Howard

Teenage Snuff Film

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This is the album on which Australian guitarist and songwriter Rowland S. Howard finally turns up after retreating back to the homeland after a dismal stay in London and the complete dissolution of his band These Immortal Souls. Howard, who was a founding member of the Birthday Party, Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, and Crime and the City Solution, has one of the most distinctive guitar sounds on the scene, and while all of his mates have taken the high road and mixed their misery with sweetness and light, Howard likes his desolation straight up. Teenage Snuff Film is first offering since 1992, and it's a gorgeous wreck of an album. Howard plays almost everything here, but is aided on bass by Brian Hooper and on drums and organ by Mick Harvey on a couple of cuts, plus a couple of string players. Long-time collaborator Genevieve McGuckin makes an appearance on "Silver Chain," and wrote the music to "She Cried." There is a small string section that's put to good use as well. As for the music on Teenage Snuff Film, it's a long, roiling howl of pain, wrought from the place where rock & roll loss and grief meet blues textures and near-gothic soundscapes (and we are not talking white makeup here). On "Breakdown and Then..." Howard speaks to the object of his affection and disgust through a strain of slowly swirling guitars: "crown prince of the crying jag/stuffs a towel in his mouth to gag/oh my darling I never knew/how hard it was to get rid of you/I smashed our virgin date/how did I reach that state/but I did it began and then/here comes that breakdown again." As Howard spits out those last words, a wall of guitars descends into the mix and punches through any memory of the words. The only feeling is one of dread. And this is how it goes unrelentingly. Howard's rootsy panoply of riffs, vamps, and single-string razor blade tricks are in evidence everywhere, even on the Phil Spector-meets-Lee Hazelwood track "She Cried." Here the notions of early rock & roll girl group music are employed in much the same way they were by the Ramones, but with slower tempo, richer textures, and far darker lyrics. But Howard pulls it off righteously. Harvey's drumming adds a real depth and dimension to the mix. Teenage Snuff Film is actually a diary in many ways of disappointment, self-destruction, desperate behavior, and ravaging heartbreak, much of it ending in death or narratives related from beyond the grave. Other notable tracks include "Silver Chair," "I Burn Your Clothes," and a frightening cover of Billy Idol's "White Wedding," that offers a far more harrowing view of the very same lyrics. This is an awesome comeback; it'd be great if it would be issued stateside.

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