Crime & the City Solution’s credentials are spot on. Berlin, back in the eighties: Rowland S. Howard, Wim Wenders, living life on the edge, next to the Wall. It’s the kind of stuff that modern bands like to emulate or reference, a sort of fin de siècle decadence that’s never going to be achieved again, what with Berlin no longer being a city cleaved by a wall and the end of the century being nowhere in sight. It seems significant that Crime found a new base, the broken, near-apocalyptic city of Detroit. With its empty streets, faded glamour and derelict houses, it is a mirror for the schizophrenic, split city of Berlin back in the 80s.
Crime & the City Solution have always been leading man Simon Bonney, and a collective of stellar friends. This incarnation of the group features Berlin-era collaborators Bronwyn Adams and Alex Hacke, along with the Dirty Three’s Jim White on drums (in an out of character, straight-up, blues rock, tub-thumper mode), and David Eugene Edwards, once of 16 Horsepower fame, on guitar. There’s some of the old mode here, the guitars still swoop across the tracks with a twang of the tremolo arm, but Bonney’s voice has been lived in. Crime & the City Solution no longer sound like the band you listened to between Nick Cave records.
‘Goddess’ starts the record off with an Idiot-era Iggy sound, recalling that raucous rocking with its catchy riff. It’s a stall-setting out opener. ‘My Love Takes Me There’ starts off like it might be Motorhead, but introduces a horn section and a shifting chorus that feels as if it’s about to fall over. ‘Riven’ is probably the most delta-infused track amongst them, with a ZZ Top tone, and more parps coming over the top.
‘The Colonel (Doesn’t Call Anymore)’ starts the second half of the record in a more reflective mode, followed by ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ which is about as ballad-y as the record gets, with soft lap steel guitars. The title track bounds along, channelling the previous luminaries of Detroit yet again: the Stooges and the MC5, with some Motown horns chucked into the mix for good measure. Their new base is no accident of geography, clearly.
There’s a sense of reflection in the album’s closing track ‘The Streets of West Memphis’. It sounds a bit like the National, without being quite so middle class. “Here comes the rain again, again” they sing to fade in the songs refrain, as it switches tempos to pound us menacingly out of the record.
A lot has happened in the intervening twenty-odd years since Bonney last served up a Crime album. Epic Soundtracks, the co-founder of Swell Maps and long-time Crime drummer passed away, as did Rowland S. Howard. Nick Cave kicked the habit, got respectable and famous, wrote some ballads and now sups from a black, treacly ominous gravy. Those days are gone, long gone, and trying to recreate them would be a mistake. So thankfully, Crime & the City Solution don’t try to ape their own past and their collective youths. They’ve added knowledge to their ability to wield filth. The guitars throughout are grimy and loud. It swaggers and sways, full of gritty know-how. Not surprising, given the wealth of experience the collective can bring to bear.