Let this never be said about Mclusky: They’re boring.
This, either: They lack substance under all the guitars, yelping bombast, and snarkiness. While they clearly revel in their role as the kids at the back of the indie-rock class who won’t sit down, shut up and listen, or stop putting gum in your hair, there are clear moments throughout The Difference… that reveal a dark, scary heart beating amidst the goofiness.
All of their signature elements are here. The titles and one-liners that induce that embarrassing type of snorting giggle are present as ever, yet there’s a new element present that was difficult to detect on their previous efforts: they are, at times (gasp) earnest. “Without MSG I Am Nothing,” remarks “you are the only one who has no trousers on / good audition!” yet manages to sound pointed and resigned when it concludes “everywhere I look is a darkness.” “That Man Will Not Hang,” meanwhile, sports the narrative “that man realized he wanted to have children with this girl / he pulled her to his side and quietly / gave away his heart like it was his to give away.” This is clearly not the same Mclusky that famously hollered “My love is bigger than your love, we take more drugs than a touring funk band!”
The most curious example of this newer, softer, fuzzier Mclusky comes with the closer, “Support Systems.” It comes in slowly, with muttered, fuzzy vocals ruminating on bipeds, life, and being made of skin. Just before it leaps to its final howled refrain of “Salt and its stains!” it slips in the Roald Dahl-esque sentiment “Think of death as a medium-sized yellow robot / that should help.” How that’s supposed to help isn’t clear, but it feels like the end of a fairy tale and sounds by turns drunk, hapless, and angry. Mclusky Does Death, inimitably.
Other high points: The mid-tempo “She Will Only Bring You Happiness,” which cheerfully announces “Our old singer is a sex criminal,” while “Your Children Are Waiting For You To Die” begins with a hilariously off-key acoustic duet, then morphs into sneering, sarcastic revelations like “Your children are just waiting for a chance.” The titular subject of “You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus,” is skewered by being told “You should be abridged, Seamus.” How many other bands can get away with talking about abridgment? “Slay!” takes the soft/loud dynamic to the absolute extreme, with whispered vocals and a screamed chorus with meaty, thumpy riffs that would make lesser bands cry.
Mclusky is a very smart band. They are a band that, if they ever decided to take a political bent to their lyricism, might possibly take over the world. But they’re clearly having too much fun with language and sound to ever do that. And this listener wouldn’t have it any other way.