100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #53 Big Black – Bad Penny

Released : 1987

Steve Albini has become better known for working on other people’s music since the dissolution of Big Black, the band he originally formed in Chicago as a solo project before he was joined by Santiago Durango and bassist Dave Riley. The group were a quartet; live, the fourth member Roland the drum machine would be hooked up to an amp stack and positioned centre stage, as if about to dive straight into the audience.

Albini wanted Big Black to gleefully reflect back the worst facets of human nature to their audience, a vision they pursued almost without a shred of compromise. The group’s music was the sound of that horror, revulsion and shock, tied to an industrial punk chassis and drained of melodic respite. Infamously they played their instruments using metal picks, the noise it made even more alien and emotionless.

Songs About Fucking came out after the trio had split up, twelve confrontational psalms that pushed the band into the faces of the industry, fans, radio stations, promoters and keepers of public morals. Bad Penny was part of a relentless ‘A’ side, the feedback punches and abrasion in extremis. The song is about the person who ruins everything, not because they hate you, but because they can; it’s never clear whether really, the villian speaking is in effect you. For Albini, it was both a triumph of artistic freedom and a middle finger to the mainstream’s hypocrisy.

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