There’s something about an explosion that just feels right. The way the tension hits a crescendo and blows up into a gigantic cloud of power. In a story, that explosion typically comes about two-thirds of the way through; in an album, it’s somewhere around the seventh song; and in sex, it’s at the end (for the lucky and talented). But when it happens at the beginning, it throws a whole new spin on things. Surgery‘s opener, “Come Save Us,” blows its proverbial wad in the first four minutes, and it’s great. It leaves you exasperated and eager to see what comes next. Like a volcano, the rest just settles in and quietly overtakes your mind.
With “Come Save Us,” the Los Angeles-based band grabs hold of the scalpel and tears into its signature wall of sonic sound on Surgery, the fourth release and second for Mute. It’s hard not to become a believer after the opener, but what follows never really catches up to its lead. Still, the remaining ten songs are strong. Blending the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, the members of the Warlocks fit with the current decade’s wanderlust for the eighties, but they pull if off by incorporating early-sixties Beatles and doo-wop styles into their songs. Bobby Hecksher, the primary Warlock, wears his influences like a badge on Surgery, far more than he does on the dope-infused Spacemen 3 style of 2003’s Phoenix. It’s that badge that makes the album stand out.
With songs varying from simple doo-wop melody structure (“Angels in Heaven, Angels in Hell”) to anthemic power tunes (“It’s Just like Surgery”), Hecksher finds a way to diversify his sonic fuzz sound. Said to have played alongside Beck and the Brian Jonestown Massacre while being bred on the Ronnettes and Phil Spector, Hecksher incorporates a little of everything into his songwriting. On first listen the Warlocks sound a little too much like their Brian Jonestown Massacre ex-patriot comrades Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but with Surgery the band shows its diversity and holding power. Instead of creating an album of songs that are interchangeable, Hecksher keeps the overall sound the same but plays with structures to make each track its own entity.
Surgery has all the fixings to be another album that pulls from elements of late-eighties post punk, but it legitimizes itself with diversity. And that opener will knock you over. Surgery is far more approachable than the Warlocks’ previous releases, and it’s only held back by the lack of consistent energy. But repeated spins will disclose the diversity between songs, something that gives the Warlocks the recipe to stand out in a decade of sound-alikes and imitators.