The Vigilantes of Love's Killing Floor is one of my favorite albums of the past few years. This band's inspired post-punk take on the more acidic end of '60s folk-rock is everything good rock and roll should be: exciting, abrasive, melancholy, silly, thought provoking, raw, and profound. The barely repressed psychotic urgency of songs like "Eleanor" and "Earth Has No Sorrow" has a dark, uncomfortable feel. On Killing Floor VOL's ethos is edgy, venomous, compassionate, and wise; and their sound is sparse, dry, and furiously understated.
You'll understand, then, why I was so looking forward to the Vigilantes' next release. Indeed, it was with drooling anticipation that I first wrapped my ears around Welcome to Struggleville , expecting all manner of aural delights and soul-deep thrills.
Initially (and depressingly) this collection of 13 songs totally disappointed my expectations. It seemed as though the band had traded in their brooding edginess for a more homogenous '90s white-boy-rock style. Oh, they were still angry, still bitter, still dealing with "dangerous" issues, but they sounded like anybody else on college radio.
Views on life from Vietnam veterans ("Vet"), racism ("Cold Ground"), and personal angst and the collapse of the American Dream (everything else) may not be "safe" issues to sing about; but surely we could do without the distressing echoes of the likes of U2 and R.E.M.? "Resume" is so bad that when the song mutates into AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie" it actually improves. Elsewhere, the album is cluttered with unconvincing boogie-woogie piano, cheesy (and patently applique) "blues" guitar, and pseudo-grunge riffola. To be fair, guest organist Joey Huffmann plays some great Hammond.
Stand-out tracks are the spooky-spooky "Vet," "Cold Ground," "Babylon" (basically Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks"), and the tub-thumping title number. The Vigilantes can still cut it. But they're a short slide (guitar) from Dullsville, U.S.A., a place 99.9 percent of "Christian music" inhabits; and somewhere they shouldn't be. I hope they watch their step.
If you're already a fan, buy this record-likely it'll grow on you as it did me. If you're not, then track down Killing Floor and borrow Struggleville from a friend.