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X-Legged Sally: Killed by Charity

Album Notes

The lineup was changed a bit since Slow-Up, but these hopped-up Belgians seemed intent on displaying -- right off the bat -- that their predilection toward manic musical behavior was still intact. Killed by Charity begins with a literal wake-up call -- a rooster crowing -- and listeners are immediately jerked from their reveries by "Eddies," a minute and a half of pure mayhem executed with sublime precision. With rapid-fire runs from guitarist Pierre Vervloesem and off-kilter rhythmic punctuations blasting out from the rest of the band, the track seems intended to display how X-Legged Sally might just be the tightest band in the world, rather than the outfit with the most hot-wired groove. As the record proceeds, it becomes clear that saxophones are less important to the overall sound than on Slow-Up -- Michel Mast is the only saxophonist remaining from the debut disc. Alto saxman Eric Sleichim is gone and bandleader Peter Vermeersch is now featured only on clarinet, dropping the tenor sax. Also notable is the first appearance by trumpeter Bart Maris, whose presence gives a brighter and punchier attack to all that riffing (and thankfully, Bill Laswell's production is now better-balanced and less bass-heavy). But more notable than the shift from three saxes to sax, clarinet, and trumpet is the generally harder-rockin' approach of Killed by Charity when compared to Slow-Up, as unbelievable as that may seem to anyone who's only heard the first disc. This is evident in the distorted metal-styled crunch of Vervloesem's guitar and the bigger role given to keyboardist Jean-Luc Plouvier, who contributes Hammond B-3 voicings to the rhythmically skewed "Am Tisch!" and who rocks out with a fiery piano solo on the infectiously danceable title track. And then there's Vermeersch's two vocal numbers: "Still Life With Ray" and "Break Too"; he yammers and yowls his way through the tunes in suitably over-the-top fashion, like a twisted new waver who took a few lessons from David Byrne in the eccentricity department (and with lyrics that have similar existential preoccupations). But harking back to the best moments of Slow-Up, the high points of Killed by Charity remain a batch of instrumental tracks that are remarkably written, arranged, and performed -- complex and multi-dimensional yet with the types of melodies, hooks, and grooves that made the first album so engaging. "Spix & Chaco," "Bleedproof," and "It's a Baby" would all have been strong tracks on Slow-Up, and they are highlights here. Also noteworthy are the LP's occasional moments of subtlety (few as they are), including the jazzy waltz "Did You Get Your Milk, Stewart?," with its breakfast-time-with-baby vocal sample, and the brief album-closing "Shedded," a brass band-styled ditty scored for baritone sax, clarinet, and trumpet. And while there was humor in Slow-Up, here it is more overt, as in the irreverent cover of Hal David/Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" (the LP's only non-original track), played with dirge-like drums and nausea-inducing reharmonizations (they apparently were denied use of an alternate title, "The Look of Death"). Killed by Charity is about 20 minutes shorter than Slow-Up, but somehow the album seems to have nearly as many ideas crammed into its comparatively brief length. Not quite up to the peerless quality of the band's debut, but a strong offering nonetheless, Killed by Charity proved that there would be no sophomore slump for X-Legged Sally. ~ Dave Lynch


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