Album review: Shellac – To All Trains

The late Steve Albini’s legendary power trio Shellac bring the noise (rock) one last time…

Album review: Shellac – To All Trains
Olly Thomas

In 2016, David Bowie died two days after the release of Blackstar. Leonard Cohen lasted 17 days after releasing You Want It Darker. Both albums were transmissions from the end of an artist’s life, received and understood as poignant reflections and reckonings.

Steve Albini passed away 10 days before the release of what will surely now be the final Shellac studio album, but the temptation to analyse it as a last testament is to be resisted. Unlike Bowie and Cohen, who knew their time was coming, the world lost Steve long before his time. In keeping with his attitude to his day job as a recording engineer (“I would like to be paid like a plumber,” he insisted), his band of over 30 years operated entirely without rock star mystique, approaching To All Trains the same as any of their other records.

And, like all their other records, this one is a masterclass in delivering musical precision with an undercarriage of scuzz and tension. The likes of Tattoos and Days Are Dogs retain the minimalist vision that has coursed through Shellac since their earliest releases; both would have suited 1994’s At Action Park. Cutting humour and concise storytelling remain essential lyrical impulses, with the introspective Wednesday a perfect example of the latter.

Scabby The Rat and How I Wrote How I Wrote Elastic Man certainly refuse to adhere to an idea of album-as-epitaph. But the swinging Scrappers, with its child’s eye view of a father quitting his job (‘We’ll be pirates!’), would carry a certain poignancy under any circumstances.

And there is, ultimately, no getting round the fact that the last song on the final Shellac record is I Don’t Fear Hell, an unwittingly perfect – and perfectly unsentimental – full-stop to the career of one of North America’s greatest ever bands.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: The Jesus Lizard, Fugazi, The Fall

To All Trains is out now via Touch And Go

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