Two Lone Swordsmen: Wrong Meetings
Is there another group whose sound has changed as radically as Two Lone Swordsmen's? The vocal-based garage rock band heard on the double-disc Wrong Meetings (Wrong Meeting and Wrong Meeting II plus two previously unreleased remixes) sounds nothing like the instrumental electronic outfit of Stay Down or Tiny Reminders. But those albums appeared in 1999 and 2000 respectively, so it's perfectly natural that Andrew Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood have moved on dramatically since then. (In Weatherall's own words, “Go to the past, but look to the future, don't get bogged down in the present. It's about distilling the essence, be it from the ‘50s or the present day.”) All well and good, so long as this year's model improves upon the one from the past.
The group's sound is now a raw hybrid of greasy blues, rock, funk, and pop, and, in a number of instances, rockabilly; electronics aren't absent but are largely subliminal. Surprisingly, after setting aside the obvious differences in vocal style between Weatherall and Marc Bolan, some songs could pass for T. Rex outtakes (the skanky plodder “Nevermore (Than Just Enough)”); “Rattlesnake Daddy,” perhaps the opening album's best song, is bolstered by a glam-pop chorus that would do Bolan proud. Throughout Wrong Meetings, Weatherall proves himself to be a decent enough vocalist, with his Cockney twang often doubled in high and low register. Lyrically, the material riffs on subjects (“The Ghosts of Dragstrip Hollow,” “In the Shadow of a Dark Heart Sun”) and themes (mistrust, revenge, redemption) characteristic of gothic blues: lyrics like “Can you hear the train a rollin' as it thunders down the track / It's on its way to Satanville and it's never coming back” (from “No Girl in My Plan”) perpetuate the classic hellhound tradition associated with blues legend Robert Johnson.
On album one, the spotlight is on crawling bass lines, shuffling drum pulses, jagged guitars, and distorted vocals. “No Girl in My Plan” sounds like a third cousin to “Lust for Life” played by Dick Dale and Chris Spedding with vocals rising from the bottom of a well. The low point is the rockabilly raver “Evangeline” which trods ground that's been covered innumerable times by others. Better by comparison are “Work At Night,” an atmospheric meditation that places electronics at the forefront alongside vocals, and “Get Out Of My Kingdom,” which strikes a good balance between soulful melody-making and guitar-based swing.
Disc two's opening three songs—“Mountain Man,” a grungy electronic-guitar funk exercise, the disco-funk instrumental “Shack 54,” and the propulsive guitar beehive “Glories Yesterday”—strike a more satisfying balance between garage rock and the group's electronic style of yore; the final original, “Lose Control of Yourself,” makes good on that promise with a drifting electronic-guitar meditation that, sans vocals, could pass for the Two Lone Swordsmen of times past. Regrettably, there are unremarkable moments too (the rockabilly cut “Hey Deborah Anne”). The closing remixes are credible (T-Bar's dark synth-pop remix of “Wrong Meeting” and The Dub of Death's buzzsaw treatment of “Born Bad / Born Beautiful”) but, frankly, are bonus tracks that add little.
All praise to the Swordsmen for striking out for ‘new' territory, even if some of it references the past a little too baldly for my taste. Given that Weatherall and Tenniswood seemingly regard the band as a continual work-in-progress, perhaps the next release will offer an even more perfectly-realized integration of earlier and future styles.