Love As Laughter Laughter's Fifth(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound
One of the things that most attracted me to the British music press after it started turning up at the local Barnes & Noble a few years back was the passionate and effusive praise heaped on deserving bands that received favorable, but detached, criticism here in the States. Bands like Radiohead and the Flaming Lips were as good as music got and it was great to read critics who "got it" and weren't afraid to admit that maybe the musicians knew something they didn't. Then I saw them wet their pants at the likes of Keane and the Libertines, and a hundred other knockoffs of bands which actually warranted incontinence. And that was the end of that. Critical distance may not be such a bad thing.
Yet there's still part of me that thinks the fan in you has to come out once in a while, if only to share the sheer joy music can bring which is, lets face it, the only reason we listen in the first place. This is why this review was so tough for me to get started, because I didn't know how far I wanted to go. Dropping the suspense, I think Laughter's Fifth is one of the best rock albums of the past twenty five years. It is everything that grunge wanted to be but rarely was. Love as Laughter (LaL) captures the guys-in-the-garage gusto of Pavement, the party ethic of the Kingsmen and the masterful looseness of the Stones at their best. If you noticed the carefully spaced reference points of the early 60's, 70's and 90's (the 80's don't count), then you see where I'm coming from. They've taken the best of what rock has given and effortlessly blended it, which is exactly how it should sound - effortless.
Let me elaborate on this idea of looseness. To my mind rock music, as opposed to pop, prog or other worthwhile genres, is the sound of impending chaos. It is the sound of things nearly flying apart. That is why so many great rock songs end in cacophony, because once the rattling edifice crumbles, it's time to stop. But it's the threat of cacophony that creates all the tension, and here LaL holds together the structure with scotch tape and chewing gum, making for compelling listening throughout. Crucially though, Laughter's Fifth never breaks down, and that's what puts this album in a league with the first Clash album, Marquee Moon and the Beggars to Exile Stones. I'm serious. Its true that this album doesn't make the kind of demands that the Clash or Exile did, but these guys are out to entertain and I'm prepared to meet them on that field of play.
This album has everything in the rock canon. Slow burners, volcanic eruptions, blues, goddamnit, its even got a great "geography" song called Canal Street. Which is sad really, because so many people are going to miss it; even the ones who hear it once or twice. Just like Television's breakthrough 30 years ago went almost completely under the radar, this album is destined to be a lost classic. It doesn't have the production sheen that even Nirvana slapped on to sell records, and in the age of reality TV, real reality has taken a permanent backseat.
I don't have enough space here to elaborate on all the highlights, from the dirty fun of Dirty Lives, to the out of tune chorus of Canal Street, and the late night drone of Pulsar Radio. It's an unassuming masterpiece, and if you blink it'll be gone.
At the end of Dirty Lives, the band breaks into spontaneous applause, almost ironically saying "boy that felt great, but it can't be, because it's just us dudes playin'". Give yourself another round of applause boys, because you did it.24 July, 2005 - 23:00 — Alan Shulman