"Relationship of Command" - At the Drive-In
Posted 06 May 2012 - 07:59 PM
This article is totally relevant because At the Drive-In have reunited for Coachella this year. Totally kickass line-up there (includes Refused, the masters behind The Shape of Punk to Come), but that's not what I'm here to talk about today. Today, I'm here to review Relationship of Command, the band's final record. Why final? Guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez ruled out the possibility of recording new music mainly because he and Cedric saw the reunion as a "nostalgia thing." According to the same article, the band members had already set aside their differences a long time ago1. With that out of the way, let's get to why this album tends to be popular amongst music fanatics.
So, as most of us know, At the Drive-In split into two groups: the blase alt-rockers Sparta; and the Mars Volta, a band so indescribably weird that simply labeling them under progressive rock wouldn't even begin to cover it. Because of the polarizing reactions both bands tend to get on a daily basis, it's not that hard to see why Relationship of Command has gotten a myriad of praise from a Rolling Stone retrospective review to music communities rating it up there with other albums like Music Has the Right to Children and that Strokes album nobody gives a shit about anymore. Everybody and their mother who has dared venture into post-hardcore likes this album either for its radio-friendly-but-uncompromising attitude towards its genre or for the sheer chaos through its 45-minute length.
There are naysayers, but these naysayers are far and few between mainly because, to be honest, this is pretty much a perfect album by every meaning of the term. Everything is executed so perfectly, from Ross Robinson's production (unlike his work in Korn) to the drugged-out sonics of the instrumentation. The whole thing has a consistent flow from beginning to end. The songs are all memorable in their own way. I don't mean that it's the end-all-be-all of music - because of its lack of any discernible flaws, the band doesn't have any endearing flaws that may or may not make the album better. If anything, its lack of any relative misfires makes the album sound a tad calculated, but its organized attitude towards aural discord gives the feeling of doom and gloom all throughout the record. Not bad, considering the lyrical content and the personal lives of the band members at the time.
At the time this was written and recorded (late 1999-early 2000), the band had already started to tear apart thanks to unbridled drug use, no thanks to Cedric's and Omar's lax attitude towards these substances. The band began to split into two sides - a drugged-out side hellbent on experimentation and a clean side that preferred to play post-hardcore the classic way. This aural conflict is very noticeable on Relationship of Command - songs will either take a progressive approach to songwriting ("Cosmonaut," "Enfilade," "Invalid Litter Dept.") or a classic approach ("One Armed Scissor," "Arcarsenal," "Pattern Against User" - any song the band played on national TV). The split was happening in front of America's ears - and we all dug it. The battle between tradition and experimentation made for some convincing drama.
As for the lyrical content, it ranges from sad ("One Armed Scissor," "Arcarsenal") to ungodly depressing ("Pattern Against User," "Mannequin Republic," "Invalid Litter Dept."). However, these seemingly obtuse songs about human tragedy and death and the band's inner conflict were all radio hits (mostly overseas - "One Armed Scissor" got a lot of airplay in the US). This album was perfect for radio - it could easily sell drama to everybody - thanks in part to Cedric's increasingly noticeable interest in post-modern literature. The jumbled wordplay and off-kilter similes and metaphors of authors like Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth inspired Cedric to stop writing songs about being a 20-something arcade gamer and start writing surrealistic tales of life in El Paso, murder, and a combination of the two. This album's approach to lyricism and instrumentation was a sign of things to come. People back then were like "oh, a post-hardcore band singing about weird things? They'll be writing entire albums about a guy who goes into a rat poison coma next!"
Everything about Relationship of Command is perfect. Like, close-to-godliness perfect. From its songs to its inner conflict to the lyrics that Cedric wrote down, this was both a high point for American post-hardcore and a sign of future things to come. Well, for At the Drive-In splinter groups that weren't called Sparta. They would inspire bands to half-ass post-hardcore into the poppy form we all know and hate, inspiring people from those guys in Hawthorne Heights to that electronic artist with the weird-ass haircut. But for what it was worth, Relationship of Command made humanity feel great, even if it was about humanity at its shittiest. If only we could top that album...if only...
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Posted 06 May 2012 - 08:29 PM
Posted 06 May 2012 - 09:44 PM
Great article, Malk, bangup job.
Posted 06 May 2012 - 11:10 PM
"Great album" is an understatement.
Now that's what I'm talking about. Been waiting for this ever since you posted about it on Facebook. Great review, great album.