What is rock'n'roll? Before I engage on a dissertation analysing the correlation between guitar timbre and back beat in the music of Chuck Berry, I'll cut myself short and say that whatever you were thinking of as your definition of rock'n'roll, it wasn't Low.
Low have been called slo-core in the past. As a pigeonhole, it's up there with IDM and New Romanticism in terms of daft tags. And yet, there's a certain ring of accuracy about it - Low have never been one's to knock out a three-chord Status Quo number, or stimulate any heads to banging. Despite this, Low are an awesome band: take 2001's 'Things We Lost In The Fire', for example. Steve Albini's stark production only served to highlight the poignant and beautiful songs, and the vocal harmonies were almost literally to die for.
So when rumours surfaced that the new Low album was to be a change in direction, a more 'rock' record, I'll admit I raised one or two "hmm"'s, and even an eyebrow (or two, I can't do just the one on it's own). So it was with a big sigh of contentment that I listened to the album through and discovered not an embarassing collection of adolescent rock songs, nor one of those maudlin alt.rock-survivor records aiming to prove a band has 'still got it'. Quite the opposite. 'The Great Destroyer' is a grouping of songs that will stand up amonst Low's finest. Yes, it's a tough listen for a Low fan at first, it certainly was for me: in many ways I'd give anything to listen to a new album of those haunting, brutally subtle, achingly sad songs. And yet, that's still present here, albeit in a slightly altered form.
You know you're onto something a little different as soon as the buzz kicks off the opening track, Monkey. The themes are slightly more definable here than "I don't need a laser beam" or "Two-step around the room," the music has a very much sharper edge but yet the melancholy of old is not far beneath the surface.
What possessed Low to adopt this slightly more standard rock template, this dynamic, noisy approach, is difficult to tell. Is it a success? Well, a part of me wants to say that possibly the most affecting track on the album is 'Death Of A Salesman', which chronicles the death of a dream, the slow surrender to society, and is the most like the Low of old. However, the album is an unqualified success, which is nice to be able to say these days. From the savage hum and violent chords of 'Monkey' and 'Everybody's Song' to the scarred optimism of 'California', or the emotional tone poem of 'When I Go Deaf', which starts off as a veiled lament tinged with resignation before collapsing into a cacophony of realised frustration, each track is very different from each other, and very different to anything Low have attempted before. It's far and away the best record I've heard this year, which is saying something - it oozes a quality that only a band of Low's pedigree can emanate. It takes a lot to raise a record above those who I have such affection for on this list and yet from the moment I listened to 'The Great Destroyer', I knew that if there was going to be another album better than this in 2005, it was going to have to be utterly blinding. And nothing surpassed it, which doesn't really surprise. Good job Low.
For your listening perusal: 'When I Go Deaf'