Agony Shorthand

Sunday, May 18, 2003
UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS : "IN THE AIR TONIGHT"....I'd like to pay tribute this afternoon to one of the most over-the-top, raw, animalistic rock and roll LPs of all time, the godhead 1987 monster "In The Air Tonight" from Sweden's UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS. You know that band Soundtrack Of Our Lives that's been getting so much ink of late? The one you heard & said in your best 12-year-old girl voice: "whatever"? Turns out that two of those guys were in the mighty UCP, & at one point had three UCP alumni among their ranks. None other than Rolling Stone had this description of UCP in a TSOOL puff piece: "Union Carbide Productions were Sweden's majestic combined answer to the Stooges, Black Flag and the early freaked-out Pink Floyd, a Next Big Thing doomed by missed opportunities and inner turmoil". That's a good enough description as any, but what they're not telling you is what a quantum leap in quality it is traveling backward through the band's history until you get to their incredible debut.

"In The Air Tonight" is one of those legendary records with a rep that keeps growing. When it came out it was a bolt from the blue for those of us who'd never found a Swedish band to dig (I hadn't heard the amazing late 70s punk from Sweden yet), and it was hailed in pretty much all corners who dared to listen. Even Lydia Lunch weighed in with a typically hyperbolic, all-caps review in Forced Exposure that had all the right adjectives: heavy, killer, bloody, blistering, raw, and of course, "over-indulgent fuck inspiring". Whatever. From Mikael Funke's history of the band on UCP's website: "Here were five guys from Gothenburg who dressed either as slobs or in suits, wore their hair long and uncombed or shaven to the skin. The music was loud, vibrant and - unlike most bands - full of groove and energy. UCP fused the Detroit Sound of The Stooges and MC5 with the weirdness of The Fugs and Captain Beefheart. They let the Stones, Doors and other great sixties acts shine through their songs long before Primal Scream. UCP was the band that did everything right in the wrong time"

This record was also given the full worship in UGLY THINGS magazine #16 in 1998, a perplexing turn for the paisley and romulan scenes, but minor complaints notwithstanding, one that spoke volumes of Mr. Stax's commitment to high-quality, high-decibel rock and roll. You read this reminiscing about the band now and it appears that everyone seems to think if it had only been 1994 instead of 1987 these guys would have been huge. I don't think so -- we're talking about defiantly non-commercial heavy punk rock, with sprawling textures, sandpaper vocals and what sounds like fifty guitars roaring at once. The closing 10-minute "Down On The Beach" recalls Husker Du's "Reocurring Dreams" with Steve Mackay's maniac sax on "LA Blues" -- not a recipe for Nirvana-style success, but a fantastic listen for the rest of us. My personal take is that their quality plummeted precipitously on the next two records (both were just okay, even though one had a song called -- gasp -- "San Francisco Boogie"), and by the time of the 90s hit I'd stopped paying attention. But get this: the band's been reuniting in Sweden from time to time, and there's talk of a box set & worldwide reissues of "In The Air Tonight" on CD (you can find it on CD now, just not as easily as you should). Sounds like a project for Revenant, & definitely worthy of joining their lineup.