Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the indie rock greats’ 1994 sophomore LP, has been reissued as a remastered, two-CD set
Sometimes the right people are just at the right place, at the right time, in the right mood – and together, their chemistry explodes as they become more than the sum of their separate parts.
With all due respect to the much-beloved-by-friends Eleven: Eleven, from 1992, and with apologies to bassist William Bramen and drummer Daniel Coughlin–the rhythm section for 1996’s Near-Life Experience and 1998’s Gently Down the Stream–Come were never quite as visceral and alive as on 1994’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There, the alchemic interplay of guitarists Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw, with bassist Sean O’Brien and drummer Authur Johnson stirring in a fine rue, achieved a singular cinematic majesty and intensity – a turbulent electric blues, lovesick and otherwise – the band was never quite able to recapture or rekindle.
I don’t remember exactly why I bought the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell cassette; some convincing review(s), more than likely, though I came to it late. These were the days when folded mail order catalogues were common, filled out and remitted with a personal check. What I do recall is being flattened by this album. Zedek’s lead vocals were yearning, desperate, imploring, and ruminative; she was a husky-tongued oracle, portending how complex and wonderful and terrible adult life could be, commanding an autumnal freight train with countless speeds, with more colors than a rainbow.
Reissued in remastered form with period b-sides and alternate takes appended, the album remains incandescent, lunging, demanding. Zedek soulfully sings several lifetimes’ worth of wounds, from the psychic debasements (internal and external) littering “Yr Reign” and “String” to the prickly prescriptive “Poison”. Smouldering, concluding torch ballad “Arrive” gives me goosebumps, even now. “Mercury Falls” still sears and scars, a dynamic exemplar, ratcheting up from dazed exacting wariness to breakneck post-punk velocity before you’re ready; “every time, we say next time/and every year, we say next year” is among the most heartbreaking lyrics in rock’n’roll. Though “Let’s Get Lost” predates Melissa Etheridge’s “I Wanna Come Over” by a few years, it deepens and darkens that single’s sentiments, somehow a logical next step.
And for those of us who weren’t necessarily scooping up CD5s and singles in the mid-1990s, disc 2 offers more of this energy: “Car” a harrowing gauntlet thrown, the raucous “Svk,” and the urgent, nocturnal “Cimarron,” with a satisfying cover of X’s “Adult Books” included for good measure.
VIDEO: Come “Cimarron”