In retrospect, it was unfair to peg Michael Knott as a Christian rocker. Over the years, his stubborn drive to say what he wants to say, in the way he chooses to say it, has caused him a lot of grief. It’s also produced some of the boldest music ever to have appeared in your local CBS (Christian bookshop to you). Just to mention some of his concept albums: Fluid was about a girl who stole her boyfriend’s car and crashes it in a vindictive fit. The rest of the album deals with her final hours of life after said crash. Rocket and a Bomb focused on the inhabitants of a neighborhood, the proverbial “least of these,” their lives and how they get by. The Grape Prophet is a fictionalization of an actual occurrence involving a Christian cult. If you’re looking for a positive shout-out from the 700 Club, that probably won’t get it for you.
What it has earned Knott, however, is a loyal clutch of fans who were probably thrilled to find him reteaming with guitar/bassist Brian Doidge under the L.S.Underground moniker. The end result is another concept record entitled PTSD (which stands for ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’, a condition once called ‘shell-shock’ that afflicts soldiers). The opening track, “Acclimation,” touches on the indifference that tends to face a soldier coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan, provided in a sludgy stomp and lyrics like “Welcome back to the land of milk and honey; thank you for your service, sonny.” The vitriolic blast of “Miss America” has a slight air of a Danzig track, which makes sense in the context of the song — how else to express the helpless rage of risking one’s life for their nation, only to have one’s voice fall on deaf ears after the service is rendered? Residing somewhere between punk energy and metallic gallop, “Lights Out” focuses on the familial alienation that happens, sometimes imagined, often realized, when a soldier returns home.
Unlike previous L.S.U. releases, there are few respites from the prevailing tensions. Even the primarily acoustic “My Redemption” is about an ex-soldier dropping out to try and forget. An old band favorite returns recast as “A Shade of Pain” and I’m not completely convinced that was for the best. Coming from the album fans consider the classic L.S.U. release, Shaded Pain, it’s difficult to hear it in the new context without recalling the prior one which made the perfect denouement to that former recording. Something that bothers me about the recording is that a good number of the songs rely on the repetition of key lines, and by using a line too much, the punch is taken out of it. Also, stylistically, it has a fair amount of grit under the nails and is, dare I invoke it, pretty grungy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in defiance of the decade’s saturation of super-shiny, over-produced music, but if you are aware of the fact before heading into a listen, it won’t destabilize the listener as much as it did my first go-round.
Even so, this album had two things to accomplish. The first was to stay true to the concept, to try and get into the heads of soldiers returning from the worst thing they’re likely to ever experience in life. PTSD single-mindedly stays on point, and while that makes for an uncomfortable unbroken run-through, that’s what the intent was in the first place. The second goal was that, if the L.S.U. brand was to be restored, it had to rock. During their tenure in the late ’80s and early ’90s Knott consistently made sure the guts weren’t removed from the music, often to the bane of those CBS owners who very tentatively put the demo cassettes out by the listening post. The album-closing “What Is Love Fighting For” repeats two thematic mantras: “If God is love, what is love fighting for?” and “All the little children holding hands believe in love.” The first phrase may be incumbent on the mind of a former soldier who relied on his or her faith to get through. It’s a battle not only externally in a war zone, but in one’s own head, and that campaign might actually be worse because that’s the war one takes to bed with them. Had this album come out back then, this heady topic would have been lost to a first-timer previewing those cassettes. The pummeling rhythm and the screech of the guitar would have begged for a confrontation with the manager, possibly a removal from the store’s stock.
L.S. Underground still survives, and while this music isn’t for everyone, it is a welcome reminder to his fans that Michael Knott and company are back doing what they do best.
Popdose has one copy of PTSD to give away to a lucky reader. To enter this giveaway, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the answer to this question: What was the name of Michael Knott’s band that was briefly signed to Elektra/East-West Records? There’s only one copy available in this giveaway so, if you know the answer, don’t delay. Send today!