In 1965, George Stevens’ epic film The Greatest Story Ever Told depicted the story of Jesus Christ to the acclaim of five Academy Award nominations. Just 12 years later, in 1977, Franco Zefferlli released his sprawling film/miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, which featured 8 eventual Academy Award winning actors. In 2021, down under art punkers Tropical Fuck Storm open their third studio album Deep States with a track entitled “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. In a mashup of sorts, the song borrows its title from the 1965 film while opening with a sample from the 1977 film wherein Jesus addresses a group of persecuted Jews:
The good news I bring you is this,
Your captivity is over.
As the utterances of Christ are spoken, his final word is echoed repeatedly while digital feedback is heard superimposed on the track before swelling to a crescendo. Rattling snare beats and crashing cymbals follow, trailed shortly by moaning guitars, a deep bass line, and Gareth Liddiard’s smoky vocals casting the opening lines:
Good luck being perfect now I’m back in town
Raising your standards ain’t gonna save you now
and taking on a whole new menacing tone to the original one of faith and forgiveness:
When I, I said I loved ya’s I was lying it ain’t true
So do to others as I do to you
I’ve come undone before I got to bid you farewell
The truth is out there, I’ll see ya’s in hell
One way to set the tone for an entire album is to start with God and end with Satan. The biblical history lesson ends here but the remainder of the album burns hotter than hades, lives deeply rooted in reality, and seeks solace in science rather than faithful fictions.
The assault is relentless as Give A Fuck Fatigue or “G.A.F.F.” continues to push the dark anarcho-nihilistic theme of the album by providing examples where simply giving a fuck feels like too much effort. What’s more is how universally identifiable these two tracks may be for a wide swath of the globe, regardless of age, class, race, or gender; we’ve all been there. Whether it’s another mass shooting, unjust killing at the hands of the police, or the mundane walking of your dog, we’ve all reached that point where exhaustion overtakes our moral obligation to “give a fuck” since we’ve absorbed “…too much information…:” and “…can’t get an erection…”.
At times Tropical Fuck Storm situates the listener in a more abstracted, poetic version of the digital garbage dump that is our projected future of climate and privacy concerns. Herky jerky instrumentation gives way to alternating vocal jabs with a call and response between Liddiard and Erica Dunn as well as Fiona Kitschin and Lauren Hammel on occasion. “Suburbiopia”, also touches on the mashup theme by crafting a neologism of “suburbia” and “myopia”. Who can argue with the idea that the suburbs have created an ideal environment for the flourishing of a lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight. Instead we’re “locked in ya momma’s basement for a Fortnite marathon” or “…playin’ online blackjack in a Highway Super 8.”
“New Romeo Agent”, which, in some regards is the outlier on the album, finds Tropical Fuck Storm at their most accessible and melodic. Dunn’s Debby Harry-esque vocal stylings float above the haunted layers of ambient keyboard strokes and steady drum beat driving the anachronistic narrative. Simultaneously reckoning with notions of the past in an uncertain future finds the listener woven into this confounding space carved out by vocals and instrumentation alike.
Despite the years between its original conception and the release of Deep States, “Legal Ghost”, the album’s penultimate song, serves only to reinforce the dark themes which resonate throughout. Somewhere between 1993 and 1998 during the pre-The Drones era, Liddiard and Rui Pereira collaborated on a project entitled Bong Odyssey on which a version of “Legal Ghost” was captured on a 4-track tape machine.
There is very little about this album that is fun, light-hearted, or pleasing in a slow-motion smile kind of way. In fact, this album is as much about life during a year of lockdown as anything else we’ve come to view as new enlightening information post-COVID. The world’s veneer was violently ripped asunder during this pandemic post-Trump era and Tropical Fuck Storm have only amplified the gruesome reality that’s been brought to light as a result. This album demands that we perk up and tune into these atrocities rather than avert our gaze like horrified 20th century puritans amid the fringes of 21st century MAGA led riots on the US Capital or Pizzagate hoaxes.
The Deep State was not the problem. It was the up-in-your-face state.
-Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House