The word ‘provocative’ retains about as much meaning in contemporary art as the word ‘revolutionary’, but I’d still like to think that the Indelicates’ latest enterprise deserves more than a wearily raised eyebrow. Earnest, arch and irreverent by turns, their concept album on late cult leader David Koresh and the 1993 Waco siege is an achievement along the lines of Luke Haines’ Baader-Meinhof or Jerry Springer the Opera, and while I realise that only a certain demographic will regard that as a ringing endorsement, it is.
Rock opera requires a leap of faith to be effective, and its writers have to shoehorn their socio-political pontificating and explorations of existential doubt into the restrictive demands of narrative and scene-setting. David Koresh Superstar isn’t overly clunky or didactic, shepherding the listener in fifteen tracks through Koresh’s origins, stand-off with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the final conflagration that consumes himself, his followers and the faith of many observers in the benevolent intentions of the US government.
Recorded in Texas and infused with the heat and dust of its landscape, this album might be regarded as the logical conclusion of Julia and Simon’s preoccupation with the southern US and occasional view of the country as foil to a Britain in decay, a place of space and potential far greater than that afforded by our claustrophobic little island. DKS’ journey through the shadows cast by Old Glory associates Texas with a tragic tradition of popular opposition to tyranny, introduced in the stirring opener ‘Remember the Alamo!’. From this not unproblematic perspective, Koresh’s last stand constitutes heroic resistance to a government identified with the overbearing occupying force of New Testament Rome, in the album’s most overt hat-tip to its namesake Jesus Christ Superstar.
The 70s funk and massed choruses on some of the album echo Jesus Christ Superstar too, in particular ‘McVeigh’s urgent disco pulse and manically rippling keyboards, a perfect match for the lyrics’ paranoid compulsion. ‘I Am Koresh’, murky and bombastic, lurks in the shadow of Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Personal Jesus’. There’s also jaunty Nashville pastiche ‘The Road from Houston to Waco’, a grimly gospel rendition of ‘John the Revelator’, and Julia’s trademark precipitous piano and vocals on ‘The Woman Clothed with the Sun’ and ‘A Book of the Seven Seals’.
Among a host of collaborators, Katy Rose Cox on fiddle and Sara Passmore on musical saw create haunting, meandering motifs that spiral with the same ominous portent as the unfolding narrative. Lily Rae, whose effortless vocal panache evokes Kirsty McColl, guests on ‘A Single Thrown Grenade’, her understated delivery and the music’s lilting lullaby concealing a core of chiliastic steel. On the stand-out ‘Ballad of the ATF’, Philip Jeays and David Devant & his Spirit Wife’s The Vessel appear as the velvet-voiced guardians of a military-industrial complex that’s been resentfully rusting since the Cold War.
With the band’s lyrical sting substantially drawn, DKS feels marked by an odd and abiding compassion, even for the ATF’s grizzled men out of time or the conspiracist outrage propelling ‘McVeigh’. Koresh is no hero, bathetically portrayed as lascivious, self-doubting and deluded, but the album’s true villain is a world with, as repeatedly asserted, “nothing in it”, where messianic aspirations are tawdrily shot down and destruction can become indistinguishable from salvation.