You know how from time to time you think to yourself, “That Operation Ivy record is just so fucking good. Every song is brilliant. What happened to those guys?” I predict that in fifteen years that’s what the next generation is going to be saying about Black Rainbow by 400 Blows. Yes, I think Black Rainbow is that good. No, 400 Blows have not broken up. Yes, I would love it if they put out another album or ten. I do, however, have some doubts.
We all know the adage about the flame that burns twice as bright. 400 Blows are burning bright. As good as their live show is, and it is one of the best, this album is better. Let me just say Christian (Guitar) and Ferdinand (Drums) are flat out brilliant. These guys don’t sound like anybody. Sure, you can hear an influence or a similarity to that one part of some song here and there, but on the whole these guys are unique. Much like Op Ivy was. Yeah, ostensibly Op Ivy was a ska band. But come on, would you ever confuse them with anybody else? Well, the same is true of 400 Blows. Punk Rock my ass, these dudes are brand spanking new. Which in this day and age where every mother fucker and his skinny ass posse can’t figure out if they want to sound just like the Stones or the Strokes is a welcome miracle. Christian and Ferdinand will rule your stereo. Trust me. I really tip my hat towards those two.
And the singing? Think Jawbreaker meets Nietzsche. No, he doesn’t sound a thing like Blake or sing in German What Skot does is, he breaks the well documented rule that all rock lyrics must suck. Erich talks about this in regards to Nomeansno’s pretty often. I think he calls it the “shit rock music lyric rule.” Well, Skot does his best to actually be intelligent, interesting and relevant. For the most part he succeeds (Wasn’t “The Ugly Are So Beautiful” a Converse commercial about ten years back?). And when he’s on, he’s fucking on. Just check out my favorite song on the record, “The Shipwrecked Sailer.” Sure, it’s an obvious metaphor – who cares? One of Nomeansno’s best songs is “Sex Mad.” Nothing could be more obvious. Sometimes that is what defines brilliance; the ability and the courage to point out the obvious.
Anytime you name your band after a movie that helped to define the French New Wave, you run the risk of coming off like a real pretentious prick. I can just imagine some stupid, anorexic electronica band thinking that name would be smashing. 400 Blows have the balls however, to completely back their moniker up. In what has to be one of the best executed/coincidental musical themes I’ve ever heard, Skot almost sounds like how I would picture Antoine from the movie sounding, if the kid were an American punk rocker instead of a Parisian rabble-rouser. As dark as the mood is, and as brutal as the music is, the 400 Blows and Skot in particular, manage to keep a halo of childlike innocence about them. To quote “The Kids Are Not At Home;”
laughing on mushrooms
sleeping in the park
and running in the dark
the kids are not at home
they’re running in the dark
and they’re safe
There are some more artistic/literary allusions if you dig for ’em. Another excellent song on the album, “The Bards Must Drink and Junket,” is actually just a line out of Joyce’s Ulysses. I only know this because I happened to be reading Ulysses when I saw 400 Blows play live for the first time. He tends to go for the Kool Keith method of writing chorus’. That being, whatever the song title is, repeat it a half dozen times as the chorus. Although he is slightly more innovative. Whereas Keith would just be content to repeat, “You live at home with your mom” for a while, Skot and the Blows get as far away from the verse-chorus-verse world as anybody this side of Lightning Bolt. Check out the first track, and one of my favorite songs, “The Root of Our Nature.” As good as his lyrics are, Skot’s delivery is better. I’m starting to feel like he is the voice inside my head.
400 Blows are heavy like you want bands to be heavy. Their music, as I mentioned, is not derivative in the slightest, and they have the technical savvy to keep it very interesting from song to song. I mean, when was the last time you heard a punk rock band pull off an instrumental? Right, when Nomeansno did it on Wrong with “Brainless Wonder.” These guys have talent up the ying-yang. What I worry about is, can they keep it up? I know they’ve been plugging along for over four years now, but how the hell do you top Black Rainbow?While I worry that they can’t, I pray they find away. Because like that Operation Ivy record, Black Rainbow is an album I can put on anytime, anyplace and have a great time. It’s not perfect, but it’s real close.