Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard the new EP from Down. Guess what? Hugh Platt was less than impressed.
Back in January, I wrote a speculative bit of fluff about Down putting out an EP in 2012, rather than the fully fledged album that their fans have been clamouring for since 2007’s Down III – Over The Under. I glibly suggested that Down putting out an EP meant that we’d be getting just the cream of the New Orleans-based supergroup’s capabilities, rather than them just churning out a longer record that would no doubt contain a couple of songs that would only sound good if you’d smoked as much weed as Phil Anselmo.
Except it hasn’t turned out like that, has it?
Now ostensibly, there’s nothing wrong with The Purple EP. It’s a fine collection of riffs. It’s not a bad collection of riffs by any measure you care to apply to it. But that doesn’t change the fact that when they’re all strung together it’s a pretty lacklustre collection of songs that we’re left with. Now before I get the the real rotting meat of my moaning, let’s refresh our collective memories of the contents of Down IV Part I – The Purple EP, shall we?
It’d be a brave man who’d favourably compare ‘Levitation’ to the out-the-box punch of either ‘Temptation’s Wings’ or ‘Lysergik Funeral Procession’. There’s nothing on The Purple EP that compares to the heady smoke-brewed likes of ‘Bury Me In Smoke’ or ‘Learn From This Mistake‘. And iI simply can’t shake the impression that the overdubs of Phil Anselmo’s croaky growls at the end of ‘This Work is Timeless’ are actually some kind of bayou frog chorus. The overall feeling I’m left with after listening to The Purple EP for the last few days has been “disappointment”. So what’s changed?
Firstly, Down is now the main event for everyone involved. Famously, the first Down album was put together in secret, with the various (then-)members of the band essentially moonlighting their services while playing in other bands. Okay, so the secret didn’t hold for long, but Down’s first album was still merely an exercise in fun for the guys involved. Album no.2 wasn’t much different – while the band that recorded Down II was no longer trying to conceal the identity of its members, it was still very much a side-project.
By the time Down III rolled around, Down was no longer the fun thing these guys got together to do on their time off from their other bands – this was their main event. Even Kirk Windstein, the lynchpin of Crowbar, now saw Down as the most important musical endeavor. The last time Crowbar came to London, they played in a 500-capacity venue. The next time Down are playing in London, it’s at a 5000-capacity venue. We don’t need to crack open the calculus textbooks to see where the money is.
Now I’m not saying that art and commerce can’t share a bed from time to time, but the shift in Down’s position from an supergroup outlet for various heavy metal musicians to blow off steam through, to the actually-this-is-now-our-day-job creature it is today is a far greater shift in expectations for an band to undergo than a band simply growing larger over time. The fundamental purpose of the project hasn’t simply changed – it’s been entirely inverted.
And that’s where I think The Purple EP falls down (‘scuse the pun). The sense of obligation that comes with it has squeezed out the freewheelin’, no-fucks-given, stoned-to-the-bone sludge-slick heaviness that coated Down’s earlier works. Maybe this release was only an EP rather than a full-length album because…well, under these circumstances, because Down simply couldn’t bring themselves to record an entire album? Or at least, to record an entire album that they were happy with? By stretching the release out into a series of EPs, maybe the band are giving themselves some breathing space to try to reclaim the extra-special undefinable quality that made those first two records special.
And yeah, to imply that The Purple EP is “a load of balls (as we did in the blog post title) is probably somewhat disengenous – as I said above, by no means do I think this is a bad release (other than the decision to both start and close this EP with a fade-in and fade-out respectively. Seriously?), and a lot of what I’ve said above is idle speculation regarding the behind-closed-doors creative process that only the band themselves are privy to. But none of that changes the fact that The Purple EP came dangerous close to boring me. And ultimately, isn;’t that the worst accusation you could possibly level at a band you love?
Hugh’s opinions – as always – are not reflective of everyone here at Thrash Hits. We’ve emptied his litter tray and let him outside to go have a bit of a run around in the hope he’ll have calmed down a bit by the time his dinner’s ready.