Red Star Belgrade’s Bill Curry may not live in the South anymore, but he carries a grudge as only a Southerner can. Before fleeing North Carolina for Chicago a few years back, he penned a rancorous farewell called “Hit 4 The Man (Chapel Hill)”, which shows up as the penultimate track on The Fractured Hymnal: “It’s an oasis of perverted arrogance, nothing but pretense and cold noise/The scene is desiccated, rusted and decayed/To drag us down their only joy.”
No, The Fractured Hymnal is not a cheery affair. Originally released in Europe under the title End Of The Line (with a slightly different tracklist), this album is full of twisted and bitter characters straight out of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt. Curry’s first-person narrator seems like the cranky guy you never saw in “Mayberry R.F.D.”, even though you knew he must be lurking around there somewhere. When Curry declares in “Mardi Gras” that he’s “madder than a middle-aged clerk,” you know just the kind of guy he’s describing.
Musically, The Fractured Hymnal is straight-ahead, meat-and-potatoes rock from a shifting lineup that includes Curry’s drummer/wife Graham Harris Curry and players from the Motorolla and Connells orbits. Aside from a couple of quiet piano and acoustic guitar interludes, Curry bashes away on electric guitar as he makes acidic observations in a drawling sneer reminiscent of Neil Young.
The closing “Christmas Day,” in which Curry vows to put the bad times behind him — “This is the last Christmas I’ll ever spend with you/This is the last time you will break my aching heart” — is about as upbeat as The Fractured Hymnal gets.
But hell, who wants upbeat, anyway?