On the plane back to Melbourne earlier this year, I watched the Dave Grohl confusion of a documentary series about US cities and their music scenes: the conceit was simple, to record a track for the new album and then make an accompanying doco about music genres and musicians etc associated with the place.
Certainly there was some value in this documentary (learning about the DC Go-Go scene was newish for me) but I was watching it because it had been recommended to me because of the Albini content; he had produced one of the Foo Fighters' songs in his Chicago base.
Not to be. Just like that unfortunate sonic rip-off of a Marvin Gaye classic, typical perfect teeth Pax Americana the Albini segment tried to 'domesticate' Steve to suggest that love had made him a nice type and then encourage us to swoon at the way he refused to accept the In Utero producer royalties (why do that, he asked, as he was just a mechanic on a job). It also showed Albini cuddling a cat.
This Big Black version of the Wire classic, 'Heartbeat' from 1987. The pure clarity of that single hit me so that I remember when I heard it for the first time, as if it were a JFK moment for my teen beachgirl self (not entirely true, but anyway). Now it makes me laugh a bit, but there is no doubting the genius of the way the guitar comes in at 39 seconds and the elements fall into place.
And then the way around one minute later it shifts again. Here's a live version from Big Black's last UK tour in London, with some of the members of Wire.
As the record itself said: 'no lovey-dovey shit' and absolutely no excess. If you listen to the Wire original, which is still beautiful of course, the difference is marked. Whereas the Big Black version is all about how the sonic elements coalesce, the Wire original is about the feeling. Colin Newman's subjectivity is paramount, you notice the 'I' statements and the bassline; the build-up comes later and stays relatively constant.
What impresses me about Steve Albini's production and overall sound, whether it is Big Black, Rapeman or his later group, Shellac is the intensity of it, where he (or the singer) becomes one element - no more important than anything else, whether it be a drum machine, or guitar. Just an element, that is it; nothing more, or less.
Here's Albini talking about how challenges himself as a producer and then a Q and A.