Swans' first major-label record, for Uni/MCA, turned out to be their last, and Gira especially has been bitter about the experience ever since; his commentary about the album often involves his anger over Uni's insistence on having noted New York musician Bill Laswell oversee the recording sessions (Gira himself states that he enjoys Laswell's work in general, and thinks Burning was a case where agreement over how best to work together simply wasn't there). Ultimately Burning sounds more like a compromised major label Laswell project than a Swans album, to its overall detriment. To be sure, Gira's complex, increasingly mythic and mystical lyrical images still retain their power, while his singing and Jarboe's still each have their own, often gripping appeal. However, Westberg's playing, whether by choice or by Laswell's direction, is more functional than striking at this point; in a more troubling move, Kizys and Parsons are completely absent (the latter joined Prong around this time), replaced by Laswell himself and session players. A number of regular Laswell partners like Nicky Skopelitis also assist throughout the album, providing a lot in the way of multicultural instrumentation that doesn't amount to much in terms of being interesting. Above all, little stands out as being distinctively Swans, being more slightly moody acoustic "world music" rock with electric shadings that is ultimately quite anonymous, lacking much of the dramatic power which informs Swans at their best, loud or soft. To be sure, there are some tracks of note: a Jarboe-sung version of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" has a gentle appeal, while "(She's A) Universal Emptiness" and "Jane Mary (Cry One Tear)" have their moments as well. Those aside, though, Burning is an otherwise general disappointment, mostly making fans thankful that the band rebounded as well as they did.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett