From the title to the cover to the music itself, Songs About Fucking is the kind of album that kicks you in the head, spits in your face and then dares you to get offended. Powered by a wilfully grating guitar sound – achieved in part by plectrums with sheet metal tips – and a relentless, pummelling drum machine attack, Big Black had already announced a kind of harshly metallic sound with their first (and only other) album, Atomizer, the previous year. But on Songs they sound even more direct, even more pissed off.

Frontman Steve Albini’s vocals are distorted and claustrophobic, his snarling and yelling never quite overpowering the clanging, scraping guitar. These clangs and scrapes, and the purposefully monotonous ‘thud-thud-thud’ drum machine programming, give the impression of being stuck in some kind of nightmarish factory (listening to it today, it’s clear how important this album was in creating the grinding mechanical sound that has since developed into what’s known as ‘industrial rock’). Big_Black_-_Songs_About_Fucking

The twisted appeal of the album relies on its almost baiting abrasiveness, to be sure, but also on how robotically efficient the music feels. The brevity of the songs here (most of them clocking in at around two and a half minutes) gives the whole thing a breathlessly aggressive urgency, and despite sounding perhaps ‘too noisy’ on first listen, its deceptive precision and discipline makes repeat listens all the more rewarding. ‘Kitty Empire’ sounds like the slam and chug of a steel plant, and ‘Pavement Saw’ flirts with something close to danceable post-punk without ever sounding anything less than determinedly cacophonous. The cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’ is as close as things get to being what you could call ‘poppy’, and even then the calculatedly machine-brained delivery and production keeps it feeling somewhat inhuman and uninviting.

Listening to this album from start to finish is almost an endurance test, and I mean that in the best way possible – it’s half an hour of intense industrial battery, and one of the most ‘marmite’ albums I think I’ve ever heard. But love it or hate it, it’s difficult to deny that Songs About Fucking has serious power.