Strange Weather, Isn't It? could have been more like a wake than an album. The deflated members of !!! sat on sofa-arms, feet shuffling, politely nibbling sausage rolls. It had good reason to be.
The punk-funk flotilla, led by lynchpin Nic Offer, have endured a bruising time since the release of 2007's Myth Takes. First there was the acrimonious departure of founder member John Pugh during recording, and then at the tail end of 2009 the death of touring drummer Jerry Fuchs. The 34-year-old fell down a lift-shaft whilst attending a warehouse party in Brooklyn.
Whilst he's at pains not to discuss those turbulent times - particularly Fuchs - Offer's made it quite clear that !!! remains business-as-usual. In that sense, the decade-young collective continue to be one of the planet's premier good-time bands. With that in mind, and like so many others in recent memory, they de-camped to Berlin to take a toke on the city's inexhaustible party-pipe to regain some hedonistic inspiration. You'd think then, it'd be plough-through-the-pain adventure. But not so.
Brush away a little top-spoil and you'll find what is the punk-funksters most emotive album yet. First, the title, Strange Weather, Isn't It?. Offer admits is lifted from a line in a film where a couple face each other and, in an awkward attempt to make conversation, reference the encroaching storm. "Maybe if I ran in into certain members I would say, 'strange weather, isn't it?'" he said recently, referencing Pugh.
The biggest clue comes in the album's general musical atmosphere. !!! have always been at their best when they've been loose, off-the-leash, wiggin' out. Only The Hammer really does that here. Instead, there's something a little muted, hurried and shackled about tracks like AM/FM, Wannagain Wannagain and Hollow. The Most Certain Sure is also uncharacteristically concise.
It's as if Offer, completely understandably, has pulled everything towards him a little too close. Reined everything in and hugged the songs a little too tightly. Previous efforts like 2004's Louden Up Now and 2007's Myth Takes were indebted to the loft-party spirit of seedy 80s NYC; but this goes back a little further, with an almost 70s funk vibe.
It might not be their best album to date, but after all that's happened we should probably just be pleased that they've not pulled the plug on the party forever.
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