Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Special Relationship

When it comes to finding an adjective that describes both At The Drive-In and their finest hour, Relationship Of Command, "combustible" is absolutely right. And that's not the only thing Tom Breihan nails about the band and the record in this Stereogum piece marking the twentieth anniversary of its release.

There's no doubt that without that combustibility within the group, Relationship Of Command wouldn't have sounded the same - though it also meant that implosion was inevitable; as Breihan notes, they "were not built to handle adulation or even attention". He writes about "a flammable combination of elements", and the album was the result of a perfect storm (in a good way): their best songs, a producer and an engineer capable of capturing their ferocity on record (Ross Robinson and Andy Wallace) and the right circumstances musically and politically.

However, Breihan only briefly acknowledges the fact that "At The Drive-In had already put together a pretty serious discography on a shoestring budget". Relationship Of Command was certainly a great leap forwards from the likes of Acrobatic Tenement and In/Casino/Out, but the narrative that they came out of nowhere and burned spectacularly brightly for a short period of time is misleading - and potentially fuelled by Breihan's article.

In fairness, though, they only appeared on my radar - and that of many other people - when Relationship Of Command was ready to drop. As I've recounted here before, I was smitten the moment I read about them, and the deal was sealed first by the inclusion of 'Cosmonaut' on a Kerrang! covermount CD and then by a memorable encounter at Leeds Festival. Personally speaking, at least, Relationship Of Command proved to be a classic gateway drug - not only to the band's back catalogue (which sounds meek in comparison) but more importantly to Fugazi, MC5 and a whole host of punk and post-hardcore firebrands.

Where I disagree with Breihan is with his dismissive reference to "their underwhelming reunion", by which point "the magic was gone". Surely I'm not alone in thinking that in.ter a.li.a was more than just a respectable comeback? Sure, it was no Relationship Of Command, but then what is? For my money, it was significantly superior to those pre-Grand Royal releases.

That reunion also meant that, unlike Breihan, I did get to see the band at a stadium show, cast in the incongruous role of support for Royal Blood. Admittedly they looked "ill at ease in the surroundings", on a massive stage confronted by a sea of "blank faces", but that didn't stop them from turning in the sort of incendiary performance for which they were legendary the first time around.

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