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Mission of Burma - ONoffON

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Artist: Mission of Burma

Album: ONoffON

Label: Matador

Review date: May. 5, 2004

Since they never depended upon a pose, or a moment, or an attitude, or any of that rock ‘n’ roll symbolism, Mission of Burma has always been a good candidate for a reunion. Their albums were sufficiently advanced that they could pick up where they left at any time and still be well ahead of their erstwhile peers. A reunion certainly seemed unlikely: Mission of Burma never translated their critical acclaim into record sales; guitar player Roger Miller suffered from tinnitus, making it difficult to get through Mission of Burma’s notoriously loud performances; and Clint Conley hadn’t recorded or performed since the mid-’80s. Yet here we are (the phrase that always follows such a recitation of obstacles), faced with ONoffON, an album of material more wide ranging than their previous recordings, Signals, Calls and Marches and Vs., but just as accomplished, and just as recognizably great.

What’s surprising about ONoffON is how different it sounds from those previous two records, and yet how well it follows their lead. Some of the songs have genuine pop hooks creeping their way out of that characteristic tangle of tempo changes and minor chords: “Falling” is Roger Miller’s most immediately accessible song yet, and “Wounded World” the most rousing. Conley, whose contributions were usually a little bit more anthemic, stretches the band’s repertoire with “Prepared,” a slow tempo, jangly pop song that closes with a string section. Finally, Peter Prescott’s songs embody the intensity of the live show, particularly “The Enthusiast.”

Few bands could reunite 20 years after breaking up and call it a success (ticket sales notwithstanding). Fewer still are those bands, like Wire and Mission of Burma, that can release an album that sounds so different from their classic material and yet stands up as its equal. I’m afraid of praising this album too much, and this is already veering toward liner notes fodder, but ONoffON doesn’t sound like self-important aspiration; instead, it sounds like an album from three musicians who, when looking back at their accomplishments, found a bit of inspiration left over. And while Mission of Burma’s back catalog always felt complete despite its brevity, we can all be glad that they did.

By Tom Zimpleman

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