NYC’s supreme party-harders dial in a limp, flaccid excuse for a ChkChkChk record Take a look at 'Shake The Shudder's artwork. Just look at that affront to Photoshop enthusiasts everywhere. I know what you’re thinking: ‘That lazy, amateurish and uninspired design looks so intentionally crap that it must belie an inspired record within’, right?
Wrong, I'm afraid. If anything the music inside is even more lazy, amateurish and uninspired than that visual travesty that encases it. This would all be fine if !!! were an awful band, then they could just go back to making awful music for awful people and tomorrow the sun would rise on an undiminished world. The real kicker is that !!! are a far better band than this wet fart of a record suggests. Nic Offer and his fluctuating retinue have survived and thrived long past the implosion of the NYC dance-punk scene that nurtured them without resorting to any of the breaking-up-just-to-reunite silliness some of their contemporaries pulled just to stay fresh, and their 2015 release 'As If' was arguably their best work since ‘Myth Takes’.
That album showed off the fluid mastery of house, disco, funk and indie they had pioneered long before it became the guitar band norm to incorporate such an array of supplementary styles. It might have been an incurably silly record (sample lyric: "We were out one night inside a bathroom stall / She said her favourite Beatles song was ‘Wonderwall’ / I started to believe it wasn't meant to be / When she told me that her favourite one was always Paul"), but that goofy ‘anything goes’ approach kept the group sounding fresh long after their expected sell-by date.
Comparatively what 'Shake the Shudder' lacks is !!!'s usual unforced sense of fun. Even at their ropiest the band have always exuded a palpable sense of joy, encouraging the listener to endure the occasional self-indulgent misfire and stick around for the unhinged, off the wall bangers. This time, reckless abandon is replaced by forced jollity and the vibe turns from head trip to school trip. On the surface bass-centric, falsetto-strewn tracks like 'Dancing Is The Best Revenge' and 'Our Love (U Can Get)' might resemble !!!'s signature rave-ups in both style and texture, they just lack the spark of life. Listening to Nic Offer desperately trying to recapture his usual manic energy is sad to listen to, like witnessing an over-stressed porn star trying to maintain an erection.
The best moments on the record are when he gives up trying to recreate his band's past glories and calms down a little. Despite its obviously rushed guitar take (a sense of impending deadline can be heard all over the album), the Nile Rodger-indebted 'Imaginary Interviews' is one of the simplest and likeable cuts they have ever produced. Even better is the blissed-out hippie trance of 'R Rated Pictures', which ends the record on a far higher note than it deserves. But to get to these consolation prizes the listener must first wade through the turgid waters of 'Throw Yourself in the River' and 'What R U Up 2Day'. The former of these is a Frankenstein's monster of disparate song sections that could have worked individually but sound utterly monstrous sewn together, the latter is completely unlistenable.
'Shake The Shudder' is basically a terrible party bag: previous experience suggests that it should be full to the brim with party-poppers, balloons and dangerously sugary sweets but, in reality, all it contains is a few loose crayons and a small bar of vegan chocolate. After nearly two decades in the party-starting business, !!! still have the capacity to make some great records. It's just a shame that this isn't one of them.
Words: Josh Gray
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