Review of Selected Songs 1994-2014 Album by Deus

There's a problem with weird: it's got a limited shelf life. dEUS are from Belgium, a country that has separate charts for its Dutch and French speaking populations and a brief, unflattering history at rock's high table. With their home renowned mainly for bureaucracy, techno and mayonnaise on chips, that the band were the first from there to ever sign to a major label in 1994 provides a brutal reminder of its cultural desolation to that point.

Deus Selected Songs 1994-2014 Album

A listen to 'Suds & Soda' from their début album 'Worst Case Scenario' also puts "Weird" into stark relief. Opening with a screeching, looped fiddle and big statement riff, voices then start barking at each other in a near relentless cacophony, framed by distortion and a jazzy organ break so incongruous it feels almost voyeuristic. Alt. folk in extremis even in the most digestible moments, it was a song that felt like a deliberate act of audience provocation. Then and now, weird seemed like the right handle for it.

The problem with approaching music like this is that 1) Those fellas in suits and ties at the aforementioned major label really, really like it when you try and communicate with people, therefore selling records and making them money and 2) Not many DJs will play your stuff. The good news is that even with a revolving door line-up over the subsequent two decades, the dEUS collective appear to have realised early on that having truly punk influences (Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits) shouldn't always mean thumbing your nose at convention. That's punk, of course, in its broadest, most unstructured, liberal sense; values which you assume surviving original members Tom Barman and Klaus Janzoons appreciate whilst they've been steering a course between music as free expression and equally fit for consumption by the paying public.

Despite a lengthy hiatus at the beginning of the century, this journey has continued over seven albums - their last, 'Following Sea', was released in 2012 - but whilst 'Selected Songs' spans two discs and thirty tracks, fans have already been at pains to point out that it isn't a straight forward 'Greatest...' package in any traditional sense. Figures, right?

Well, kinda. 'Suds & Soda' makes an appearance a third of the way in, and 'Theme From Turnpike' that follows it sounds like it belongs on Waits' magnum opus 'Swordfishtrombones', but dEUS have in fact been singularly Anglicised based on the body of work they reveal here, or at least astute enough to pretend they have. Much, in fact, has some familiar antecedents; 'Wake Me Up Before I Sleep' has the naked, emotionally charged understatement of The Eels, opener 'Instant Street' flakes of The Jayhawks' rusty Americana, whilst 'Via' sees Barman pulling off a pretty decent Tom Petty.

Fears calmed about biting the metaphorical heads off of bats, 'Selected Songs' can be savoured as both an exercise in playful boundary pushing and a showcase of the ensemble cast's versatility. Most of the time it sounds like, more importantly, they're having fun: On 'Constant Now', they are as orthodox as anything Coldplay, whilst 'Hotellounge (Be The Death Of Me)' is glorious, wide-screen rock 'n' roll and 'The Architect' is beetling post-punk. Of just as much value but another corner turned are the far more introvert passages of the closing half dozen songs, which are mostly lo-fi, first gear and country influenced. The pick of these is the mazy, bar room drunk of 'Secret Hell', but its confessional charm is almost matched by 'Disappointed In The Sun''s broken carburettor piano wheeze.

Weird. Its temporary fascination is the kind of thing that causes ripples, but ultimately drowns the artist in a wave of novelty expectations. 'Selected Songs' proves that dEUS are far more than a water spraying flower in the face, rather that theirs is a catalogue worthy of exploration, even if mostly for the brave hearted.   


Andy Peterson

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