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The Indelicates - David Koresh Superstar

I met Simon and Julia Indelicate (né Clayton and née Clark Lowes, respectively) at the back door of a Mexican restaurant. The afternoon was sweltering, as is typical for Austin, Texas in the middle of March, but the duo behind The Indelicates didn't seem to mind the decidedly un-British heat. They'd just returned from the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, and Simon was bubbly with excitement. Julia was wearing a kick-ass pair of cowboy boots she'd picked up at a vintage store that day. Their fascination with the Lone Star State was apparent, but I also assumed it would be fleeting. Apparently, I was wrong.

That meeting was just prior to the band's 2008 gig at SXSW - a blistering performance enjoyed by the couple dozen of us crammed into the back of that Mexican eatery. The Indelicates' debut album, American Demo, would land the following month. It proved that the group, who were five members strong on stage, could capture their pop melodies, literate lyrics, and classic rock outbursts on record. The band's sophomore full-length, 2010's Songs for Swinging Lovers, revealed their gradual transition toward a more intricate brand of songwriting that nodded toward the melodrama of musical theater. What The Indelicates also showed was a strong affinity for tone. Like Morrissey, their music and lyrics convey dark seriousness and camp all at once, but without pandering to irony.

For their third album, The Indelicates return to Texas with a vengeance. David Koresh Superstar is, as the name implies, a rock opera about the Branch Davidian leader who died in a 1993 FBI raid of the cult's Waco, Texas base of operations. Given the meaty subject matter, this is an album whose success is dependent largely on tone. Aim for sheer mockery, and you'll get a work that is merely cute, flimsy, and ephemeral. Try setting straight reportage of tragedy to musical accompaniment, and you'll wind up with a work that is leaden and overwrought. What's great about this record is that it's very hard to tell how the songwriters actually feel about the historical events and the people involved. Instead, this is all presented as a rich tableau of characters embroiled in a dramatic story.

Of course, David Koresh Superstar isn't just a story. It's an album comprised of fifteen songs that are as compelling musically as they are lyrically. The songwriting styles here run the gamut. Opening track "Remember the Alamo!" is a dark flamenco with a foundation of acoustic guitar strums and harmonies from Simon and Julia. It also introduces the Texan setting, as well as the theme of defending one's fort. The following track, "The Road from Houston to Waco," is a loping country ditty, rendered by Simon as the early history of Vernon Wayne Howell, who would later gain infamy after adopting the alias David Koresh. Julia sings lead on "A Single Thrown Grenade," a '60s-ish folk song à la Joan Baez. The Indelicates evoke a moody Bruce Springsteen on rocker "Ballad of the ATF," telling the story of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who initiated the raid against the Davidians compound.

Sometimes, music says more than words, as on instrumental track "The Siege," a trippy art rock tune in which a mournful musical saw underscores the surreal senselessness of the entire incident. To close the record, the band follow in the footsteps of Blind Willie Johnson, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Nick Cave by covering the gospel standard "John the Revelator," a song about Judgment Day. Thematically, this ties back to an earlier cut, "A Book of the Seven Seals," which is what John is "writin'" in "John the Revelator." Koresh, you see, claimed to be Christ and, therefore, worthy of opening the Seven Seals.

The 51-day siege in Waco would ultimately lead to the death of 76 Branch Davidians, many of them kids. It was horrible at the time, but, as if often the case when Messianic nut-jobs are involved, the event has been reduced to little more than a cultural punch line. On David Koresh Superstar, The Indelicates revive the full-bodied pathos of the incident. They mine the raid for both calamity and black comedy, serving up equal doses of each. The music is memorable and vibrant, too. With so many details to soak in, the album's plenitude of hooks, stomps, and sing-alongs turn a modern horror story into a rockin' good time that's deserving of repeat listens.

Recommended Tracks: "Remember the Alamo!," "Ballad of the ATF," "John the Revelator"

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