Friday 24 June 2016

Review: William S. Burroughs – 'Let Me Hang You'

'Let Me Hang You'

The infamous author of such degenerate literature as 'Naked Lunch', the late William S. Burroughs has had a major impact on alternative music; from the cut-up technique used by the likes of David Bowie, his friendships with Ministry maestro Al Jourgensen and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, to his own spoken word albums that saw him introduced to the MTV generation. Burroughs enjoyed a fevered career befitting his fictional works.

Shortly before his death in 1997 Burroughs recorded some of the darker and more outrageous passages from his incendiary 1959 novel 'Naked Lunch'. The producer Hal Willner and Burroughs’ manager James Grauerholz also recruited a team of musicians to add an avant garde soundtrack to accompany them. The recordings were ultimately abandoned and forgotten until Willner re-discovered them in 2015 and with the help of King Khan of King Khan & The BBQ show as well as a number of other artists including M Lamar and The Frowning Clouds to complete the material.

The result is a trippy and disturbing detour into the interzone. Latin guitars, simple rhythms, howling electric guitars, ethnic strings, drones, and dissonant keys and strings frame the unmistakeable croaking voice of Burroughs as he relates thirteen dark and depraved tales of drug use, murder and sex from the novel.

The album is a slow and entrancing in its use of Burrough's voice as it creaks and almost drones in places while the music provides an ectoplasmic dose of psychedelia and jazz. The album is not dissimilar from the classic 'Dead City Radio' with its blend of rock and jazz. But with the vocal lines all coming from 'Naked Lunch', 'Let Me Hang You' enjoys a more complete sense of continuity.

For something firmly rooted in the avant garde and featuring a lot of abrasive elements, it is actually a rather easy listen (discounting of course some of the more lurid details of Burroughs' text). The music is not overpowering and the mix keeps the vocals high and at the forefront of the presentation.

For fans of Burroughs' spoken word, his literature, and indeed avant garde music in general, this album is a must have. The expert musicianship combined with the gnarled poise of Burroughs' voice are a winning combination. Burroughs may have long since gone to meet his maker, but this proves that his work still has a place today. 

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