Ah blog, I've neglected you of late. I must have been too busy working or something. Sorry about that. Time to refocus.
And with the Shihad documentary coming out this weekend, that seems like an ideal topic starter. Unfortunately a fair chunk of the headlines have centred around the scraps between directors and producer. I think that's a bit of a disservice to a band who have so consistently demonstrated an ability to rise above that sort of thing, but anyway. It makes good news, I guess.
I can vividly remember the first Shihad song I heard - it was Factory. I heard it on bfm... no idea who it was by but I had it dubbed to cassette, as was the style of the time, and I played it a lot. I loved the way the industrial feel of the song perfectly matched the chorus... "stuck... stuck... stuck in a factory stuck". Not the most eloquent lyric Jon Toogood ever wrote, but it worked.
I figured out it was Shihad when I heard Bitter, maybe a year or so later, and put two and two together. That was the song that really got me into the band. The urgency, the way it grooved along without ever falling into any sort of standard verse-chorus-verse, that catchy main hook: "you're so bitter inside", the distinctive buzzsaw guitar tones, and above all, those huge chords in the bridge. Fantastic song.
Since then, I've picked up pretty much every Shihad album at, or close to, release. It's fair to say that I like their old stuff better than their new stuff, but the contribution of this band to my life, to New Zealand music, has earned them my loyalty. Above all, though, their live shows are what commands the most respect. I've seen this band live countless times, and they never, ever disappoint. They've even figured out how to use festival sets effectively, which remains a mystery to many bands. They can play a "regular" concert, and it's always great. They can play an old album in its entirety, and throw in a couple of obscure old tracks as an encore, and it's amazing. They can play a chronological 'greatest hits' type set, and it's brilliant. Maybe they never figured out quite how to make that work in the US, but well, timing (or lack of) was everything there unfortunately. But if you are a New Zealander aged between 25-40 and you have not seen this band live, you need to fix that.
So anyway, my tribute to Shihad will be in the form of a list - my favourite Shihad albums, starting from the bottom and working to the top. Studio albums only - the live album is brilliant in its own right though, and essential. Here goes.
#8. Beautiful Machine (2008)
I was nervous when the promo material for this album talked about every Shihad album being a dramatic departure from its predecessor - like the self-titled album was with respect to Killjoy. I liked Killjoy a lot. I also liked Beautiful Machine's predecessor Love is the New Hate a lot. And unfortunately that 'dramatic departure' didn't win me over. The album is for the most part much more catchy and accessible and "radio-friendly". It's just that isn't the Shihad that I really love. Aside from Rule the World and Vampires, this album just doesn't do it for me - it's just not very interesting. Also I hate the way Tom Larkin's snare sounds on this album - it's a nasty, shallow, synthetic sound which unfortunately seemed to be really popular at the time.
#7. Shihad (1996)
#6. Ignite (2010)
Of course it could have been fixed if they'd included the propulsive, snarly Beatlab (a bonus track on some versions) somewhere in the middle - bit of an unfortunate omission, that.
#5. Pacifier (2003)
Forget all the bullshit that surrounded it... this is a good album. At this point in time, the band had demonstrated they could rock hard, and they'd also demonstrated they could write pretty catchy, accessible songs. This album is really where they put those two elements together to good effect. Tracks like Semi-Normal, Bullitproof, Trademark and Comfort Me hit hard but balance that with some great harmonies and sing-along choruses. Then there are a few acoustically led tracks like Home and closing track Coming Down which provide a good (probably essential) counterpoint without stalling the album's momentum at all. After quickly revisiting this album for the purposes of blog, I've concluded I need to listen to it more often - it's certainly unfairly overlooked.
And for the record, once again one of my favourite Shihad songs from the respective era unfortunately isn't on it - in this case the mighty Toxic Shock.
#4. The General Electric (1999)
#3. Churn (1993)
#2. Love is the New Hate (2005)
#1. Killjoy (1995)
So there you have it - my views on Shihad's recorded catalogue. Perhaps you agree - or perhaps you don't. Are you planning to see the documentary?