There’s no doubt Anton Newcombe has ideas about capitalism and rock ‘n’ roll. Whether or not his regiment of booze and drugs has impeded his ability to properly apply these theories is up for debate. This is clear to anyone who has seen the 2004 documentary Dig! (which Newcombe does not endorse). It chronicled seven years’ worth of lineup changes and implosions on the cusp of success for his band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Perhaps a scattershot career highlighted by enormous potential and punctuated by commercial failure was the point all along, in which case Newcombe executed his vision flawlessly. Regardless, the quality of the music is undeniable.
The expansive two-disc retrospective, Tepid Peppermint Wonderland, features thirty-eight tracks and includes everything a proficient compilation should: live cuts, a previously unreleased track, photos, track commentary and an intro written by a veteran rock journalist. Curiously absent is material from 1998’s Strung Out in Heaven. Considering the strength of that album, it’s doubtful that this was an unintentional oversight, but rather a calculated stick-it-to-the-man statement aimed at their only release on TVT Records.
Being unabashed ’60s revivalists from San Francisco, the comparisons have been well documented and at times are more obvious than others (the title of 1999’s Bringing it All Back Home Again EP). Late Rolling Stone’s guitarist Brian Jones is an obvious influence on Eastern-tinged songs such as “Servo.” For his Eastern leanings, George Harrison missed a chance at having a band named after him: his surname didn’t flow more seamlessly into that of a cult that committed ritualistic suicide.
For the most part, Brian Jonestown Massacre is content to dirty-up the jingle-jangle of Byrds-style cuts like “The Ballad of Jim Jones.” Don’t take that as a career-encapsulating statement — aping a certain style is not an issue here. With the pedal-steel-guitar slide of “It Girl,” the band is just as likely to drag you through the desert and leave you there. There’s nobody around today that sounds like this.
Newcombe is the primary creative force, but he is surrounded by a revolving cast of talented musicians, including guitarist Peter Hayes (he did the ’60s thing, skipped the ’70s and currently does ’80s-style Jesus and Mary Chain with his group Black Rebel Motorcycle Club); guitarist Matt Hollywood, who besides having a cool name is the spitting image of a doughy John Lennon; and Joel Gion, who is unreasonably visible for someone who spends that much time with the maracas.
In his film reviews, Roger Ebert knows that a movie has failed if he feels that watching the actors have dinner in real life would be more interesting than the on-screen situations. Considering their live shows had the propensity to spiral into chaos and violence, I’m sure that watching the members of the Brian Jonestown Massacre around the dinner table is fascinating. The music, however, holds up just fine independent of the drama.