The Swans discover tunes
russell clarke | halifax, west yorks | 06/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Once upon a time listening to the Swans was about as enjoyable as sticking knitting needles in your ears and the effect was often the same. Relentless pulverising beats without the vicarious thrill that a band like say Big Black could give you. Also without the warped humour of The Butthole Surfers, this was bleak humourless fare. Up until this album the Swans were industrial noise-nicks you lump in with Skinny Puppy and Front 242etc."Time is Money (B******)" was the rape scene in "Irreversible" set to music. Then out of nowhere came "The Burning World" and although the world view is obstensively still as bleak as ever suddenly it's set to a gorgeous lush musical landscapes. A couple of the songs actually feature la la, s. Gira goes pop. "Burning World" is The Swans in collision with The Chills while the Waterboys look on.
And goddam as Gira would say, if there isn't a little optimism in here. Opening track "The River that runs with love won't run dry" is a statement in itself. But add in the warm washes of violin and perfectly picked guitar notes with Jarboes honeyed backing vocals and you have a song so uplifting Westlife could cover it...if they had any taste ....or talent.
"Let it come down" is more like old style Swans. "I will drown in flames" sings Gira portentously in his cavernous vocals to a stumbling deluge of charcoal bass, percussion and wheezing strings. Jarboe sings a beautiful version of Steve Winwoods "Can't find my way home" backed by tabla, mournful strings and random guitar notes sprinkled like diamonds on a tar pit. The tabla provides rhythmic propulsion to "Mona Lisa(Mother Earth)" with suitably eerie backing vocals. "Saved" is another song suffused with uncharacteristic hope. It has a sumptuous melody, twinkling guitars and more opulent backing from Jarboe., who sings wonderfully again on "I Remember who you are" a string smothered ballad of fevered brow intensity. On "Jane Mary cry one tear", "Everything is a cause for sorrow" which may explain the funereal arrangement something it shares with the pitch black (She's a )Universal Emptiness", while "See no more" is two paced, starting with urgent spiky guitars and tumbling percussion until Giras vocals pull in the reins." See our sun go black because we made one mistake" he grumbles. It ends with ardent tipples of bazouki before "Goddam the Sun", a ballad of jaw dropping bleakness with contradictory fervent strokes of guitar and strings.
Overall despite the inevitable themes of death, despair and torpor this is musically a rich and textured album, with many moments and songs of outstanding beauty. Don,t let the granite faced disposition of Mr Gira fool you. Within him sit's a heart that beats in time with the rest of us. His world may be burning but he's prepared to concede that for us it may still be a place of hope and wonder.
A teriffic hated and underrated album!
ilan bahar | bora bora | 05/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"even the swans themselves hate this wonderful thing.
although it can't be compared with all the amazing stuff that came after it, especially in terms of richness of arrangements, the songs and the deliveries are very, very strong indeed.
sometimes an album has to be judged WITHOUT comparison to other ones of the same artist. and this one is simply great by itself."
Tender & tuneful masterpiece
Pieter | Johannesburg | 03/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Burning World pays tribute to author Paul Bowles as is evident from titles like Let It Come Down and the mention of "sheltering sky" in the lyrics of Saved. The album is a classic by default; the artists were of the opinion that producer Bill Laswell didn't understand what they wished to achieve, hence their problematic view of The Burning World.
Still it is a work of great beauty. As far as accessibility goes, this is the one Swans work that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people with different musical tastes - from the Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Joy Division fan to those who love atmospheric rock or eastern-influenced world music sounds.
Swans gave up the ghost in the late 90s with an awesome legacy in their own albums and side-projects like World of Skin. An acquired taste, the band has on various albums explored extreme emotions and extreme music. This gentle, melodious album also has its moments of intensity like the devastating God Damn The Sun where Michael Gira out-Cohens Leonard on a tale of despair with a twirling seductive tune.
Another breathtaking track is their interpretation of Steve Winwood's Can't Find My Way Home, hypnotically and spookily sung by Jarboe over the eerie instrumentation, as is I Remember Who You Are which turns Jarboe's expressive voice into a medium of tenderness, empathy and reassurance. The melodious track Saved with its spiritual undertone is another highlight.
Swans' early 1980s work explored harsh sounds via the industrial/extreme heavy metal route, Children of God (1987) blended softness & severity, Love Of Life & White Light from the Mouth of Infinity (both 1991) & Great Annihilator (1995) provided powerful guitar rock and Soundtracks For The Blind (1996) investigated the drone & atmospheric electronic avenues.
This 1989 album is a masterpiece of über-folk. Judged on the quality of the melodies, the vocals & the sound, The Burning World is an enduring classic. Fans of Leonard Cohen, John Cale, Richard Thompson, Peter Murphy, Velvet Underground, Nico, Nick Drake, Nick Cave and similar artists will do themselves a huge favor by acquiring this shimmering masterpiece. Michael Gira has been pursuing a similar sonic path with his post-Swans project Angels of Light.