Big Black's 'Atomizer' Turns 31 (And I Feel Fine)!


That first day in January when the cheap wood on the 99 cent window scraper breaks and my knuckles experience that unmistakable sensation of being dragged across the frozen tundra of yonder windshield, I stand expectant of what is next to come.

The urgent message of pain being sent to the brain seems to be taking the scenic route, so much so that I almost wonder if I haven't finally become numb to the joys of yet another five-month rust belt ice festival.

The desire to let loose with a howl finally arrives, but the payoff is weak. I know what I must do.

I trudge into my modest domicile greeted by the smiling eyes of probably no less than two dozen cockroaches that I have yet to actually see, but whose activities while I was gone are evident. Even they know what's coming next as I head to my meager album crate.



While I would love to have the large comprehensive vinyl collections that many of my societal peers proudly display on social media and blogs, what I have at any given time are those 20-30 albums I can't live without, but that can be left behind, sold, or dumped in a hasty exit and replaced later on.

And then there is the handful of albums I never sell, never leave behind, and never lose because they are as much a piece of me as my desire to be left the fuck alone yet loved at the same time.

Big Black's Atomizer is one of those albums and today I pull it from the box speckled with blood from the last winter's first knuckle scrape, slap it on the $30 turntable and speakers somebody else left behind, and kiss yet another security deposit goodbye.

The first dissonant squeal of "Jordan, Minnesota" takes me 500 miles in a second, to a town that most decent maps have the good sense to leave off, where the sadistic sacks of human detritus are no mere figments of an overactive imagination but, rather, loose strands of society's fabric that nobody wants to pull.



"Kerosene" arrives four concrete slabs later like a pop song riveted to a jack hammer chipping away at a cow skull for no other purpose than because it is there.

Though I have always chuckled at the similarity between "Kerosene"'s metallic guitar scrape intro and that of a certain Kenny Loggins/Steve Perry anthem, the unrelenting shit-kicking rumble of Roland (Albini's trusty drum machine) all similarities to corporate cheese rockers have been crushed to dust by the time Albini deadpans "probably come to die in this town".

It is at this point that I'm almost of the mind to complain about the incessant pounding from the neighbors above, but think better of it. Roland's Sherman tank of a right foot matches their broom handle blow for blow as Albini's anguished hiss surfs atop this sonic stew like a bespectacled carnival barker whose sales pitch has been honed to blistering perfection.

Thirty one years this writer has been waiting for something, hell, anything to come along and match the unflinching menace and ferocity of Big Black circa 1986 or, at the very least, for the unforgiving hands of time to reduce those moments of their soul-stirring potency.

If anything, Atomizer's brilliance has only intensified over time, even as society's appetite for its own destruction threatens to render the inhabitants of Albini's musical universe as laughably quaint by comparison.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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