Big Black – Lungs [EP]

Big Black - Lungs

Lungs is 19-year old Steve Albini playing every instrument except for a drum machine and “sax bleats”1 as Big Black. What would become a household name in noise rock started off pretty rough on this extended-play, with fleshless songs and angular guitar strums against incredibly simple (and nigh-identical) percussion loops. Albini’s voice is extremely reverbed, almost robotic – like an 80s post-punk demo, especially on “I Can Be Killed.” The high-treble markings and lack of any bass give each song an electronic or industrial texture. It’s only a short hope from here to Swans, after all.

Albini is angry, that’s for sure – the album starts with “the only good policeman is a dead one.” Hella edgy; hella punk, but pretty cringey in retrospect. “Dead Billy” demonstrates his early flirtations with the hyper-grotesque that typifies the entirety of Big Black’s run2 – the track describes in no uncertain terms prostituted necrophilia of an ex-vet. Damn, son. Now the problem with Lungs is that Albini sounds like an angry kid – with emphasis on the “kid.” Lines such as “this is like a slap in the face / this is like an amputation” on “Crack” are weird, and Albini did not have the history nor the acumen to write such a line with conviction, much less deliver it.

Between the dubious sound quality and unrefined lyrics, Lungs is better seen as an early example of what Big Black would become rather than a release to which you’ll actually listen. This is the juvenilia of Albini’s career, and is recommended only for completionists. “This is not a love song” – quite so.

1. Steelworker – (4:15) – ★★☆☆☆
2. Live in a Hole – (3:01) – ★★☆☆☆
3. Dead Billy – (3:27) – ★★★☆☆
4. I Can Be Killed – (4:27) – ★★☆☆☆
5. Crack – (3:55) – ★☆☆☆☆
6. R.I.P. – (2:21) – ★★☆☆☆

Overall: ★★☆☆☆

1… according to the liner notes.
2… which peaked on the thoroughly straightforward Songs About Fucking.

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