It’s always interesting to hear paranoia put into song. Charles Mingus laments in his Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me blues, Laurie Anderson aestheticizes fear into a repetitive, glacial conversation with herself, but with Steve Piccolo you get a deliberately lonely exercise in self definition. In between releasing two albums as part of the chaotic Lounge Lizards, Piccolo put out Domestic Exile, his first solo effort in 1982, an album that very harshly bashes capitalist high-power business culture and self definition through consumption through very few means. Even if such criticism is pretty much a cliche nowadays, Domestic Exile could give even the most righteous protester a needed kick in their pretentiousness.
Coming from a dirty New York No-Wave corner, the album very consciously avoids ornamentation and says nothing more than it deliberately tries to. The songs punch in and out very abruptly leaving no room for rambling instrumentals or lyrical passages, but what it does say comes off very strongly. The organ playing here has nothing flashy, the piano plays easy two finger phrase and the guitar does mostly nothing more than gyrating the vocal lines into infinity. Piccolo forces a punk/lo-fi aesthetic into a very refrained almost adult contemporary, middle-of-the-road type of sound. The songs also have a quick tendency to become annoying, but after you get over the incessant repetition, the songs take a sharp turn towards fun.
The Bell is a great introduction to the shattered structures and nuclear paranoia present in most of the songs remembering another great political ironic piece from some time before, namely Field Commander Cohen. But where Cohen tried to stir some poetry into tense international relations, Piccolo only tries to dismantle the fear inherent to such dealings.
I Don’t Wanna Join a Cult very happily destroys a sweet pop song that it used to be and also refuses to take death too seriously, Fast Life and My Face very briefly rebel against living a life of consumption and being incapable of authenticity and Young and Ambitious introduces you to the most annoying, self absorbed and jolly people you could ever meet in the most suicidal way possible. Not only do those people he describes make you want to kick something as hard as you can, but the song itself gets on your nerves from the first few bars. However, after a first destructive impulse, you realize how funny the whole thing is and how flawless Piccolo’s delivery is. The song throws you into a very personal diary of annoyances and fears and lets you look around while the protagonist softly narrates them. They are not big songs, they are not meant to change something, bring down establishments or destroy cultural norms, but to call out some very personal things that get on his nerves. These kind of things involve masses and could easily be turned in public subjects of protest, but the essential aspects of the album are subjectivity and a very programmatic unpretentiousness.
You may not develop a lasting obsession with this record, and you may even find it annoying, but either way, it will have succeeded, either by being just a fleeting, quick but very real conversation you once had with yourself, or by being a convincing report of annoyances. Domestic Exile is a great one or two time listen, and it doesn’t even demand more than that. Had it been released some 16 years earlier, it would have been a rock, it would have been an island, but bar all of Simon and Garfunkel’s pathos, it exerts a momentary burst of fascination and then lets you get back to your life.