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Harvey Milk - Special Wishes

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Artist: Harvey Milk

Album: Special Wishes

Label: Troubleman Unlimited

Review date: Oct. 1, 2006

Harvey Milk called it quits in '98. Creston smashed his axe, the curtain fell and the trio scattered and secured their separate stations in life, ultimately deciding that the day-to-day was conspicuously without if the three weren't banded together, creating music that often sounds like Varesean castoffs ignited with Southern-fried Champagne jams. The band has endured its share of transformations. They've tried on a lot of different hats, but have mostly stayed content with the old beer can and crotchet number, crinkled, rumpled – yet still suggestively heavy. Thanks to bassist Stephen Tanner, the three are together as one again, united under the same yarn and tin headgear.

Some of the songs on Special Wishes are tied to the tried and true Harvey Milk methodology. There's the mathematic instrumental with goofy intro – drummer Paul Trudeau amped up about his opportunity to win an Intellivision. There's the pencil in your pee-hole screamer that is "I've got a Love." There's the "whimsical" dabble with classical structure in "Old Glory" and "Mother's Day." All of which are done judiciously well with power, panache and wit.

But the best songs show Harvey Milk trying something starkly different, indulging a sweeter side and allowing Creston's caged howl to relax and just sing. The instrumentation softens up too; shockingly slow-balling through Big Star and Badfinger motifs while recalling a ponderous helping of rock's bloated past. Echoes of Zeppelin's "Rain Song," Sabbath's "Changes," and a billion other hoary, old tunes combine in a filthy déjà vu that is simultaneously nagging and narcotic. “Love Swing” works its double edge: Is this a unconsciously blatant Melvins rip-off, or a get fucked to tin-eared critics who wrote the band off in legion as mere replica of Buzz & Co.?

Strong whiffs of elegy are undeniably integral to Special Wishes. Creston’s guitar is melancholic, exhilarating and pensive. When added to one of the more mercurial rhythm sections assembled since ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, the effect is ponderously nostalgic. Special Wishes has another component, too, a piquant anti-war stance found in “Old Glory” and the less subtle “War.” Both songs access the sentiment from different angles. “War” utilizes Holst’s “Mars,” riding the snare pattern through three-minutes of rage. “Old Glory” rescues the flag from filthy GOP fetishists, recasting it as it should be – as ideal, an ineffable concept too great to be pinned to blazer lapels. The abduction is given a strictly Southern soundtrack; Creston’s guitar pronounces its solo Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, with Tanner’s bass knocking along proudly to Pauly’s ride cymbal, snare and bass drum. This would have been a fitting end if the trio couldn’t have topped it with “Mother’s Day,” which is nothing but a seven-minute ascension, all three gents locked in and scaling the shit – a remarkable conclusion for a record that many thought would never happen in the first place.

By Stewart Voegtlin

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