5 Rue Christine
Fabulous Muscles is a fascinating failure of an album. This message-heavy, avant-punk effort is filled with gems in the rough, but the rough is the problem: There’s just too much of it.
It takes an open mind to appreciate Xiu Xiu’s work, and any listener who gives a little to the good songs on Fabulous Muscles will receive more in return. Xiu Xiu is like the side of Morrisey that wishes he were Charles Manson, and FM is like a Joan of Arc album produced by Nietzsche after he went insane.
The vox organ, drum machine beats and synthesizer on “Crank Heart” foreshadow a broken robot vibe on this album which should be used more. Unfortunately, Xiu Xiu allows little mirth for that kind of accessibility. The next song, “I Luv the Valley,” creates a simple, earnest melody that’s perfect for the brand of testimonial Xiu Xiu sings about, sometimes in broken French, “That’s a pill and you’ve got to take it … That’s a heart and the both of you made it … It’s l’histroic de le family … I won’t rest until I don’t care.” Both songs introduce the album with excellence. But, from there, this quality is hit or miss.
“Support Our Troops OH (Black Angels OH!)” embodies Xiu Xiu’s awkward socio-political commentary, leaving the listener question ing his agenda. With the lyrics: “Why should I care if you get killed,”referring to the soldiers in Iraq, he tries to explain this sentiment with ” … you’re a jock who’s too stupid and too greedy … to do anything else.” Through this inept argument, Xiu Xiu manages to offend supporters on both sides of the war movement and falls flat in his attempt to seem relevant on the issue. These specific lyrics seem as though he’s psychically stuck in high school.
The most interesting embarrassing lyrics come with the title track “Fabulous Muscles (Mama Black Widow Version).” In this song, Crispin Glover seems to meet a quasi-pornographic, acoustic guitar-toting Bob Dylan in Xiu Xiu’s coming out of the closet party, “No romance, no sexiness/ But a star filled night/ Kneeling down before the now familiar flesh/ Of your deformed penis.” The amateurish quality of his lyrics stem from his evident wish to say everything at once, but this emotionally naked singing and songwriting is honest and sincere.
More shiny moments on FM return, including “Brian the Vampire,” a song about a boy molested by his brother. It’s filled with sharp, reptilian-like electronic noise, which goes with the adrenalized trauma of the song’s content. “Clowne Towne” comes later as a breath of fresh air and a merely pessimistic song as opposed to those previously pumped with caustic bitterness. It’s a song in which the instruments finally produce harmony.
One of Xiu Xiu’s best qualities is the fact that he has not yet realized his art. FM could be more than the sum of its parts; half the songs on this album are excellent, the other half are either boring, tedious or even worse — pretentious. This album is worth buying as an EP of five songs, assuming the listener can ignore the other half.