Dirty Three: She Has No Strings Apollo (2003)

Dirty Three: She Has No Strings ApolloThis is an older review of mine, presented here for archival purposes. The writing is undoubtedly different to the present, and the review style may differ between publications. Enjoy, if that’s the right word. 

She Has No Strings Apollo arrives as Dirty Three celebrate ten years together, playing dives and festivals and introducing gobsmacked punters to their particular blend of distortion-fuelled neo-classical gypsy heartbreak. It’s the product of fatherhood, abortive recording sessions and long sojourns as backing musicians for luminaries such as Nick Cave or Will Oldham. And more than any recording before it, it seems to nail the sound — and, more importantly, the sense of communication between players, the “feel” of things — in a way that their other discs haven’t.

The disc’s feel could be put down to the fact that it was recorded — after a couple of months of live workshopping — in just three days at Les Instants Chavires in Paris. And it shows; the tunes have a sparseness in places that bespeaks freshness — these are songs that have no fat on them. They’re fresh from the source.

The Dirty Three keep working themselves together tighter with each release. Mick Turner’s guitar seems more straight-ahead on this outing. Unlike his solo work’s occasional hall-of-mirrors impenetrability — Moth, for all its beauty, can prove a most frustrating listen — there’s a delicious simplicity to his picking here. Beautifully clear, chiming tones frame most of the tunes, offsetting Jim White’s sounds-like-it’s-out-of-time-but-isn’t textural percussion (and ex-con ass-busting kickdrum) and the gossamer bite of Warren Ellis’s amped violin. Ellis, it seems, is relying a little less on the construction of walls of violin tracks found on Whatever You Love, You Are — there’s overdubbing, of course, but it seems to be more natural here. Effects pedals are a bit more subtle, with the trademark feedback kept under control a lot more this time around. There’s an occasional addition to the soundfield — Turner adds bass in places, which gives a much more rounded feel than before — but otherwise, She Has No Strings Apollo feels simpler then previous releases, and also more polished, more muscular.

The tunes here seem to have more in common with the band’s earlier, more propulsive moments. True, there are still grand gestures of the Ocean Songs sort to be found here — “She Lifted The Net” has that familiar seaside-at-night feel — but the emphasis, for the most part, seems to be towards tempering the music’s aching, country feel with a sense of motivation, of get-up-and-go. Opener “Alice Wading” has the feel of a pursuit through the scrub, of treachery and plucked-riff deviance — a theme that’s continued all the way through the album. There’s quietude — “Long Way To Go With No Punch” is closer to the band’s efforts for the Praise soundtrack and finds a melancholy, pianistic center — but largely, the feel here is of sly activity.

The album’s closer, “Rude (And Then Some Slight Return)”, is like a conversation between the two sides of the band — the elegiac, meditative, slowly-strummed peaceful motif that kicks off the tune is, at points, interrupted by a dirty, bucked-amp descending riff that’s certainly got some Hendrix sass, and allows Turner room to stretch out with an honest-to-god rock solo, something rarely seen on the impressionistic soundscapes for which the band is famed. The song’s violent pornothrall ends up folding in on itself, giving way in a squall of feedback to the initial, peaceful meanderings, ending on a note of uncertainty. It’s different from anything the band’s done, yet strangely familiar, and points to an exploration of duality that will, if continued, provide some mightily good stuff.

She Has No Strings Apollo is, if anything, a portrait of one of the most passionate bands you’ll ever hear, at a time when they’ve fine-tuned their improvisational telepathy. Grab some red wine, kill the lights and give it a whirl. If you don’t howl at the moon for your lost love, or at least dance around the room in a drunken, Zorba-like frenzy, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

First published on Splendidezine in March 2003.

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