Music Reviews
The Sound, the Speed, the Light

Mission of Burma The Sound, the Speed, the Light

(Matador Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Conviction. A band like Mission of Burma has thrived on such a simple modus operandi since their beginnings in the early eighties. It makes the music enthusiast speculate what’s really important when it’s time to judge on a final product. Some will say that it’s the execution of skillful songwriting, a dash of innovation, or a sound that becomes memorable with repeated listens. But when it’s time to hit the limelight, confidence is what separates the legends from the has-beens.

The Sound, the Speed, the Light, Misison of Burma’s fourth full length – and third since OnOffOn, 2004’s remarkable comeback after an already astonishing first run – isn’t about big revelations or re-imagining punk’s history pages. In fact, since their reappearance, the Bostonian trio has gone off the unconventional route with each progression. They never really pulled off the three-chord play, especially since Roger Miller’s guitar playing was simply too skilled to be ignored. Post punk? Not really, since their music always differed from the style that emerged from every lemming in that time: they didn’t share Joy Division’s gloomy, synth ambience, not did they follow Scotland’s parade of urgency, courtesy of bands like Fire Engines or Josef K.

To better epitomize Mission of Burma, they were just proving their veracity to themselves, not giving a shit what anyone thought. Even if Burma’s approach was unpredictably methodical for a punk group, the early shows evoked a different posture – monstrous riffage for crowds that, on a good night, could be close to the twenties. What made Mission of Burma stand out from the flock was their ferocity; it was rock music for people who didn’t really like what rock music was turning into in the early eighties. Mission of Burma captivated with their ability to be heavy-handed and incredibly melodic, all of this witnessed in a mere transition.

The Sound, the Speed, the Light, in context, is probably the closest they’ve come to mimicking 1982’s landmark Vs. Not that it makes it better that they’re going back to their punk roots. Still, there are a few noticeable qualities: both albums run at an explosive pace without looking back, the delivery is fairly straightforward, and there’s hardly a ballad in sight. In contrast, Burma’s last album, The Obliterati, was their take on making a hard rock album, an unexpected statement that just seemed too charming for its premise. It definitely was melodic to the core, every corner decorated with luscious guitar hooks.

The Sound, the Speed, the Light is a Cliff Notes study on their career but it still sounds unmistakably consistent. There are the ones, like 1,2,3 Party and After the Rain, that have the sole purpose of transplanting Burma’s early days, full of anthemic choruses, quick-tempered guitar playing, and just being plain loud. Then again,  One Day We Will Live There and Possession sound more like 21st Century Burma, even demonstrating some improbable bridge soloing and shades of melody beneath the ugly exterior. And yes, in our digital age, there’s still time to use some tape loop hiss manipulation, courtesy of Burma’s not so secret weapon Bob Weston, which goes hardly unnoticed throughout the production.

The Sound, the Speed, the Light, even if incredibly reminiscent of their first punch in the eighties, does have a purpose in hand. Burma definitely ditched the melodic and emphasized on sounding powerful, which may erroneously imply that they are running out of steam. Even if this is a by-the-numbers creation, it certainly adopts the same fiery posture that every Burma album encompasses. It just has to be looked upon with a different mindset.

So here’s a toast to conviction. Why? With bands like Mission of Burma, the passion and fervor of creating another album beats the songwriting. In fact, it augments it, makes the end product even fresher, and most importantly, justifies the pricing. It defeats the sole purpose of their reunion as a means of necessity. They weren’t here to reinvent the wheel – they accidentally did, discarding benevolence to younger groups trying to sound like them, providing them even less of a chance. In my perception, this kind of attitude transcends any hokey explanation of what punk really means.