Setting aside the many ways to foul up a garden variety LP, there are two basic ways to royally make a mess of a concept album. For a start, you've got to have some brass balls/ovaries to attempt a musical form which, in the popular consciousness at least, still carries the stink of â??70s excess. You've got to be confident to the point of arrogance, or brave bordering on foolhardy. If you're not careful, your 'vision' will outstrip your ability, and you'll become the next Tom Delonge, peddling an overwrought record, crushed under the weight of its own bullshit. There are better examples of this phenomenon, but they don't have their own memes. Sorry, Tom!
The second pitfall only really applies to albums which go past simply sharing a broad theme (Murder Ballads), and attempt a coherent narrative throughline (Diamond Dogs, David Comes to Life). You've got to have a different set of skills to attempt storytelling of that scope, and a lot of songwriters just don't have the chops for it.
Happily, Direct Hit! have managed to neatly body-swerve both of these hazards, with some style. In the first place, Brainless God is a punk rock record in the classic sense. While the songs are by no means clipped, generally coming in at around the three-minute mark, they're extremely lean. Everything that's there is there for a reason, and with the exception of a couple of well-placed refrains and a recurring melody that holds the whole thing together, the whole album has a sense of relentless forward motion, driving forward to the literal finality of its conclusion. In short, there's no room for excess, and there's plenty of occasionally dark humour threaded through the proceedings, so it doesn't take itself too seriously, which is a boon.
As far as the storytelling goes, there is certainly an over-arching narrative line, telling of the final days of a world staring down total nuclear armageddon. That larger maxi-story is interspersed with self-contained mini-story songs, each focusing in on one or two characters and how they react to their predicament. The best examples of this are "Buried Alive" and "Home to You," about a serial killer and an escaped convict respectively.
The former is dripping with black humour, juxtaposing intrinsically unpleasant subject matter with an upbeat tempo and infectious chorus. The latter is the closest the album comes to a straight-up love song, as the narrator finds his jailers have abandoned their posts, and takes the opportunity to head home to spend his final seconds, literally, with the object of his affection.
It's this approach, examining the inevitability of death through a multitude of viewpoints, that lends Brainless God true strength, thematically as well as musically. Somehow, Direct Hit! have managed to create a collection of songs which, while they can be enjoyed in isolation, feel very much of a piece. This is a grand story bolstered by smaller, more intimate stories, provoking genuine emotion along with a wry smile, and a message which is, overall, surprisingly upbeat.
Like Monty Python before them, Direct Hit! have pointed out that we're all doomed, but that we may as well have a good time before the bell tolls. If you're looking to inject some fun into your own lifespan, you really need to get hold of Brainless God. It's as fun as contemplating your impending demise is ever likely to be.