FNU Ronnies "Saddle up" LP
Review from Dusted
FNU Ronnies records are comet-like. They occur somewhat cyclically thanks to the tri-coastal nature of the group, often in a dazzling burst of chaos that quickly fades away until the next appearance. Saddle Up is no different, with the minor exception of having ended up in the relatively major hands of Load Records, a logical home for a band that is at its best (or worst) when manhandling the ur-punks of every punk era. In fact, for all the things Saddle Up is not — produced, profound, or even pleasant to start out with — it is shockingly self-aware as it dismantles and recontextualizes its own context, from The Cramps on “Saddle Up” to Nervous Breakdown Black Flag on “You Don’t Look So Good” to label forebearers Lightning Bolt on “No Difference.”
The thing about this recontextualization, which is the real act of subversion here, is that it’s done for no reason. There’s no critique on punk here, or a statement on what comes next. There’s no purpose, and certainly no good reason any of these songs even had to be written. Part of this is that someone else already wrote them. There’s little newness apparent anywhere, abrasion filters, spacey echoes, and new lows in musicianship notwithstanding.
Really, there’s a sense that they weren’t written at all. Even though the referents are easily identified, the timeframe is much more difficult. Yes, that sounds like a Ramones riff, but from when? Is that an authentic d-beat line, or is that a nu-metal rip-off from 10 years later? Are these copies of originals, or copies of copies of, etc.?
In fact, the songs on Saddle Up just sort of are, a kind of background noise that’s been discharged over the years and only now set to tape. Not to give them too much credit, but FNU Ronnies isolates the alienation that drives punk forward and amplifies it to an unbearable level.
This nihilism is most apparent not in any single song but in the production taken as a whole. The easy explanation is that the band literally did not care, but carelessness could not possibly reach the level of offensiveness that Saddle Up achieves. On a proper hi-fi, on computer speakers, on headphones, on anything, this record hits a nerve, causing near instant tinnitus and/or migraines. Literally. FNU Ronnies do what thousands of bands have never gotten me to do before: shut the whole thing down out of sheer discomfort.
Arising from this situation are two important distinctions when considering what to do with Saddle Up. The first is that when approaching this record, it’s less about taste and more about tendency. It’s not whether or not you appreciate the sounds of destruction (I like my power violence well enough, thank you very much). It’s really about whether or not you tend toward self-destruction as a state of being. And as I consider the modernly furnished room in which I write this, in the button-down recently pressed, I realize that this record is not for me in wholly unprecedented ways.
Which brings us to the second important distinction: measuring Saddle Up
in terms of goodness and badness is not an appropriate scale. Before my
last spin through the record, I was asked if it was great or a
disaster. Having had another go at it, I can pretty confidently say it’s
the best disaster it could possibly be.