It looks good on paper. Acclaimed indie pop band write a Lloyd-Webber style rock opera about infamous cult leader David Koresh. What’s not to like? Well quite a bit as it happens. A story of this weight and grittiness could be taken in a number of ways. As a massive tongue in cheek epic, a light emotional work or a dark intense psychedelic for example. What transpires is, however, an over rehearsed Arcade Fire-lite retelling an incredible story poorly. So lost are they in making the lyrics fit within the song that you get little sense of the mind of Koresh, or the overall madness of the situation. 75 people were killed in a fire following a shootout at a compound with the FBI in Texas in 1993. This is mental illness and messianic delusions in a doomsday cult on the fringes of American society well within our lifetime. This is gritty, haunting and pure evil.
They sure can construct a song. Track one is about the Alamo; Texan heroes prepared to die for freedom. It sets some context for later. Concept album 101. Track two is a history lesson in Koresh’s life and his leadership of the Branch Dividians. ‘I Am Koresh’ attempts to probe the man’s delusion but singer Simon Clayton’s narcissistic wailings and lyrics like “there ain’t no sense to my err-ratic behaviour” dispel any possibility of gaining any insight. Much like a teacher trying to rap to the kids about how awesome mathematics is, The Indelicates take all the magic out of a great modern tragedy with turgid, draining emotion. I should mention the music at this stage. It’s a masterclass in modern indie rock song construction. The finely tuned attention to detail is noteworthy. But that is all. This is a twee pop version of prog rock. If you like music for musicianship alone you can stick with prog rock, you’re missing nothing here.
Six songs in and the album takes a Les-Mis-balladry turn, leading up to the big siege, between Koresh’s inner monologues, the chatter of the locals and the government plans to shut it all down. ‘Something Goin’ Down In Waco’ is Tom Waits for the uninitiated. It’s got the strings, the eerie feeling and the earthy sing song style …minus the genuinely terrifying feeling Waits leaves you with. Intentional or otherwise, the over-and-back between the “townspeople” about what’s going down in Waco is the stuff of 70’s porn voiceovers and seminal rap album skits.
‘What If You’re Wrong’ sees Koresh in crisis. He doubts himself. Is he doing the right thing? Yadayadayada, it still sounds like the soundtrack to an ambitious amateur school musical with a massive budget. On we go, doomsday ramblings, the siege, the leaders call to arms, the war and the fire. So bored am I that I forget that this is a true story, a tragedy on many levels, a tale of deceit, Shakespearean madness, state sponsored murder, another casualty of the American Dream.
I don’t mean to be cruel. The Indelicates are a good band. They are intelligent, intensely determined and musically gifted. They’ve simply over-thought the composition and production, and grossly underappreciated the theme. Concept albums are a tricky business. Metal does it well because the music lends itself to dark rambling tales. The Who set the bar with Tommy, a story that is completely original and completely bonkers. Duckworth Lewis Method wrote about cricket in arguably one of the finest Irish albums of the past few years. Hannon and Walshe could probably have tackled any subject but always with, one would imagine, a degree of humour. This is humourless, lacks insight and is produced to within an inch of its life. Buy a GG Allin record instead. He could give a damn about production and for an insight into the mind of a deluded self proclaimed prophet of doom you’re not going to get much closer. Avoid, but don’t write this band off yet.