The Fatima Mansions Valhalla Avenue
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Oddly never released in America when the later Lost in the Former West was, Valhalla Avenue upped the considerable ante of Viva Dead Ponies with another rampaging rip through hypocrisy and societal idiocy. Coughlan's inspired vocal mix of smooth croon and exploding street-corner crazy continues from the group's earlier work, as does the musical stew that has the band aiming for lounge music as much as brain-melting feedback. Sister Mary O Gruama's guitar work adds the pile-driving power as needed, but it's the keyboard work from Coughlan and Duke O Malaithe which actually takes the lead, even at the loudest moments. Clever sampling here and there -- sometimes of familiar melodies, others of strange news and movie-source snippets -- helps set the edgy atmosphere. It's not as chaotic as, say, Fear of a Black Planet, but it's still disorienting enough at points. Ralph and Victor Van Vugt again assist Coughlan with production and engineering; if sometimes the ambition of a truly full-bodied nuclear strength assault doesn't always play out, at its best Valhalla still blazes with acid fire. Lead-off single "Evil Man," captures the piss-and-vinegar spirit of the proceedings just so, with sudden tempo changes, curious percussion touches, and odd vocal arrangements further spiking the brew. "1000%" works even more effectively, with a seemingly friendly lead melody swiped from Wham's "Freedom" constantly undercut by gang shouts and other sudden musical cut-ups and treatments. As expected, while the mental-as-anything head-bang crushers have a thrilling momentum, it's the poison-pen ballads, sometimes calm and sometimes just fractured enough, which carry the best impact. "Greyhair" and the sweeping "North Atlantic Wind" balance cutting lyrics and almost nihilistic social criticism with soaring melodies and full-bodied performances, showing that there's a way beyond simple anger to make a point.