When I checked out punknews.org's best of 2004 lists there was not one that I completely agreed with. Not one on its own, but most of my picks were present on somebody's list. Take some Jesse, a little Adam, and a pinch of Scott, and you had just about all of my picks. There was one glaring omission, however. Not to be found on any list, not even getting an honorable mention was Mission Of Burma's brilliant reunion piece ONoffON.
I'll say it right from the get go: this is their best work ever. Yes, it's better than the frenzied Vs. and yes, it beats the amazing Signals, Calls and Marches. Not easily, not by far, but, when push comes to shove, this is their best album. How could the best album by one of the best post-punk bands ever get so obviously overlooked? Well, they are Mission Of Burma, so they're used to it. Outside of music critics and indie rock snobs, this album didn't even make a hairline crack in the windshield of popular music. Some things never change.
Twenty-two years later, the terrific songwriting, inventiveness, and energy is still there, but they've also added some interesting, smoother, new elements to their style. The album opens with the explosion that is "The Setup." The song is classic Mission Of Burma and it features a great fuzzy, squealing guitar solo midway through, a similar effect to the one often used by the Pixies' Joey Santiago on their 2004 reunion tour and Warren Zevon tribute song. "The Enthusiast" would be my favorite track on the album. It's a roaring, powerful post-punk masterpiece with one of the greatest intros in recent musical history and a razor-sharp hook. "Wounded World" is easily the most sinister track, with its pounding waves of drumming and sizzling charge of feedback noise all emphasizing lyrical bombs such as: "If you laugh at my jokes / You will pay for it / When your friends are enemies / You'll be sorry." A new version of "Dirt," an early eighties B-side, keeps all of its original toughness, but with all the kinks worked out it sounds so much better. And "Playland," another of the three revamped old songs ("Hunt Again" being the other), is this album's "Outlaw."
There is more diversity in the songs on this album alone than in the rest of the band's discography combined. The brilliant "Nicotine Bomb" takes flimsy country and infuses it with some much-needed muscle. The mellow "Prepared" is soft vocals, a string section, and simple chords making up a very pretty near-ballad. Staying on that quieter path, the intriguing "Falling" features backing vocals by Tanya Donnelly, but it's only really interesting during its noisy instrumental parts. The album's midsection follows this trend and at times almost loses your attention. Almost. And that takes me to one of my opinions on Mission Of Burma: they sound better when they're at their hardest and fastest. If they put out an album full of "Setup"s, "Enthusiast"s, and "Playland"s maybe they'd get the respect they deserve. Despite that fact, they're still better than just about every band around.
ONoffON is a complex work and a staggering accomplishment. It preserves all of their past power and lyrical themes, while breaking new ground and being as cutting edge as ever. Mission Of Burma is back, and better than ever.