Mission Of Burma - On OffOn
Wed 2nd Jun, 2004 in Music Reviews
Never heard of Mission Of Burma? I hadn’t. Perhaps a brief history would be nice? A Boston four-piece, they were around for four years in the late 70s and early 80s, releasing 20-odd songs in the ‘post-punk, avant-rock’ vein.
Despite never reaching the lofty heights of other avant-rock groups like Echo & The Bunnymen or Public Image Limited, Mission Of Burma were apparently awesome. Now they’ve officially re-formed after twenty years, releasing this guitar-heavy long-player.
Real indie-rock, Chuck Taylor-wearing, faux-hawk sporting hipster geeks have been awaiting this release because Mission To Burma are continually cited as a seminal act, inspiring rock giants like REM, Sonic Youth and Moby. Moby even recorded one of Mission Of Burma’s better old-school tracks, That’s When I Reach For My Revolver, for his unnecessarily maligned post-punk album ‘Animal Rights.’
Regardless of their supposed influence on the shaping of the rock landscape, are Mission To Burma to taste of ‘04? Judging from ‘On Off On,’ no.
This sixteen track effort is packed full of dubious lyrical turns and passe, distorted, reverb-rich guitars. Every track sounds like musical paint-by-numbers; sloppy drumming with a lot of drum rolls and kick drum action, guitar played quickly and then not played quickly and retarded ‘arty’ solos. The intro to almost every track sounds so eerily similar that I can’t help but think they ran out of studio time so they just shoved the same guitar part in every fuckin’ song.
The band continually emphasise how arty and cool they are. They’ve got a track called Max Ernst’s Dream, name-checking the controversial Dadaist. Songs about artists very rarely go down well because they tend to sound like intellectual wanking exercises, and their attempted meaning so rarely reaches communion with their form. See? I’ve been to art school too!
Prepared is one of the few tracks to stray from the Mission To Burma path and it’s a welcome relief from the art-school bombast of the songs that come before and after it. Reversed guitar and some lovely violin work soothe the nerves after listening to such mediocre knobbiness. Then Prepared ends and Wounded World begins, sounding like a poor man’s Jello Biafra jamming with a bored Lee Ranaldo.
This album so easily could have been an EP, or even a single – it’s only really good two tracks on it (Prepared and the other 15). If Mission Of Burma were really keen on being post-punk royalty (despite most people never having heard of them), they should’ve never released this. Now they’re just another band trying to capture former glory. And failing.
Good on them for inspiring other artists, but perhaps the lads should try getting a little more inspired themselves before they release such run-of-the-mill chaff again. As it is they sound like the Stooges having tea and biscuits with Thurston Moore whilst Fugazi head out to buy some jam for the scones. Ho-hum.