Nettwerk Productions, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/11/1997
Back when Beck first burst onto the scene, I didn't understand what the big deal was about him. To my untrained ear, he seemed like free-association Jean-Paul Sartre set to a rough acoustic beat. I wrote him off as a passing fad... that, along with the polyester leisure suit I bought for a wedding (don't ask), was one of the biggest mistakes I made in the '90s.
Fortunately, I have been given a chance to redeem myself with Sean Macdonald's brainchild The ids and their debut effort Psycho Babylon... or have I? (Guess you'll have to keep reading to find out...)
The sparse arrangements of many of the songs on this one paint the picture of a world trapped in a world of ironic anarchy. More than once the cries of "fuck the system" will blare from your speakers -- and while this ain't Phil Ochs, the message comes across strikingly blurry. Somehow, I think this is exactly how Macdonald wanted it to be -- and it works.
More often than not, Macdonald is the force behind the instruments and voices of the songs, though he does occasionally assemble other musicians to join him in his map-less journey. Normally, in my pre-Beck days, I would doubt that order could come from such chaos. But now that I am enlightened, I see that the chaos is the order, and musicians like Adrian Rout, Jim Routhier Rick Brummer and Jacob Cino just help guide the listener to the order.
Enough already with the psycho-babble, the music is the thing - and you get all styles here. From the electronic Erasure-wannabe noodlings of "Atomic City" to the close-to-being-a-rocker "Pimps In It" to the acoustic guitar and vocals on "Prozac Morning," Macdonald leads the listener through some definitely uncharted waters. Fortunately, many of them are relatively smooth.
In fact, the only rough seas come on the track "Summer Of 1999," the only true example of complete weirdness on Psycho Babylon. Had it been shorter, it might have been somewhat bearable - but not five minutes' worth.
Otherwise, Macdonald does indeed make the bulk of Psycho Babylon an interesting journey to take. The blend of acoustic and electric guitars, as well as the tuba-like bass lines, on "Monkeys In Cages" highlight Macdonald's lyrics. "Spiritual Debris" has a rawness in production and performance that is amazingly potent - and leads in quite well to "Rainbow Enemy" and its subdued declaration of war against the status quo of society.
Somehow, I don't see The ids going the route that Beck has taken, becoming stylish and hip with tracks like "The New Pollution," but Macdonald seems to have discovered a groove that fits his style of writing and performing like a wet suit. Be warned, though, that Psycho Babylon isn't a disc you'll immediately find endearing. It's only after repeated listenings that its power and messages will become clearer.
I made the mistake a few years ago of declaring Beck as a passing flavor of the month. Will The ids achieve the level of success that Beck has? I don't think so. But if their future efforts are anything like Psycho Babylon, it won't be for lack of trying.