Once upon a time listening to the Swans was about as enjoyable as sticking knitting needles in your ears and the effect was often the same. Relentless pulverising beats without the vicarious thrill that a band like say Big Black could give you. Also without the warped humour of The Butthole Surfers, this was bleak humourless fare. Up until this album the Swans were industrial noise-nicks you lump in with Skinny Puppy and Front 242etc."Time is Money (B******)" was the rape scene in "Irreversible" set to music. Then out of nowhere came "The Burning World" and although the world view is obstensively still as bleak as ever suddenly it's set to a gorgeous lush musical landscapes. A couple of the songs actually feature la la, s. Gira goes pop. "Burning World" is The Swans in collision with The Chills while the Waterboys look on.
And goddam as Gira would say, if there isn't a little optimism in here. Opening track "The River that runs with love won't run dry" is a statement in itself. But add in the warm washes of violin and perfectly picked guitar notes with Jarboes honeyed backing vocals and you have a song so uplifting Westlife could cover it...if they had any taste ....or talent.
"Let it come down" is more like old style Swans. "I will drown in flames" sings Gira portentously in his cavernous vocals to a stumbling deluge of charcoal bass, percussion and wheezing strings. Jarboe sings a beautiful version of Steve Winwoods "Can't find my way home" backed by tabla, mournful strings and random guitar notes sprinkled like diamonds on a tar pit. The tabla provides rhythmic propulsion to "Mona Lisa(Mother Earth)" with suitably eerie backing vocals. "Saved" is another song suffused with uncharacteristic hope. It has a sumptuous melody, twinkling guitars and more opulent backing from Jarboe., who sings wonderfully again on "I Remember who you are" a string smothered ballad of fevered brow intensity. On "Jane Mary cry one tear", "Everything is a cause for sorrow" which may explain the funereal arrangement something it shares with the pitch black (She's a )Universal Emptiness", while "See no more" is two paced, starting with urgent spiky guitars and tumbling percussion until Giras vocals pull in the reins." See our sun go black because we made one mistake" he grumbles. It ends with ardent tipples of bazouki before "Goddam the Sun", a ballad of jaw dropping bleakness with contradictory fervent strokes of guitar and strings.
Overall despite the inevitable themes of death, despair and torpor this is musically a rich and textured album, with many moments and songs of outstanding beauty. Don,t let the granite faced disposition of Mr Gira fool you. Within him sit's a heart that beats in time with the rest of us. His world may be burning but he's prepared to concede that for us it may still be a place of hope and wonder.