Classic Album Review – Malhavoc “Get Down” 1994

  The Wall. Ziggy Stardust. The Crimson Idol. The rise and fall of the messianic rock star has been fertile ground for many artists over the years. The idea of taking the natural narcissism of popular musicianship and turning it back upon itself to create material is too tempting to pass up for just about anyone; the story may be familiar but the permutations are endless. 

After taking a swipe at commercial hip-hop with Premeditated Murder, James Cavalluzzo gets further into the head of his quarry on Get Down. He creates the persona of MCJC to endure the ennui of fame in his stead, and also to ask some close-to-home questions about depression and self-abuse (yes, that’s him on the cover in typical live Malhavoc mutilation mode).  “Getting down” is tangled up with being low; in order to be funky MCJC often has to be wretched in return, calling back the old tale of the artist using himself up in pointless spectacle. 

Structurally the album reflects these peaks and valleys. The military cadence of “Declaration” leads up to the over-the-top disco fever of “Discipline”, only to have JC’s bubble burst against a wall of denial (“No”, “This Video Sucks”). Mid-album comeback tune “Revitalize” uses up the rest of the band’s manic energy in one blast of industrial speed, forcing them to sleep it off afterward (“Wake Up”) and spend the rest of the day in a fugue state (“Hopeless”, “Wasted Away”). Interestingly, the liner notes contain instructions for alternate track orders, allowing this birth/death/rebirth/transformation to be experienced out of sequence (although it seems to be the shit sandwich for poor MCJC no matter how you slice it). The sound is similar to Premeditated’s melancholy industrial trip hop, although the boisterous main character adds a pinch of swagger to form a Frankenstinian creation stitched together from parts of Cypress Hill and Siouxsie and the Banshees (indeed, the obligatory hidden bonus track turns out to be a cover of “Happy House”). Early signs of the broken-beat DJ experimentation that would mark later Malhavoc releases also crop up in the showier, stage-ready tracks. 

There’s something very 90’s about Get Down. Hearing it again is a bit like re-reading The Crow in that, over time, looking in on someone’s personal howl of desperate nihilism sees the cool factor drifting toward a more detached and sober empathy. It is, however quite possible to ignore the dated qualities and appreciate the balls-out courage of the project. This period (especially the release of the not-sucking video for “Naked”) was also something of a fleeting high point in terms of exposure for the band, which dovetails nicely in a meeting of the conceptual and the actual. A deeply strange and challenging record, and possibly impenetrable for those unfamiliar with the history. I suggest you give it a try nonetheless. 7.5 out of 10


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