The Indelicates – David Koresh Superstar

I’ve given up trying to explain The Indelicates to people, but if you put me against a wall and put a gun in my mouth and told me to describe them, I’d say “Mrrgh mrrff wgggffh fggghh”. Then, when you took the gun out of my mouth, I’d tell you that The Indelicates are like Belle & Sebastian meet Gilbert & Sullivan meet Sacco and Vanzetti. And that’s the last I’ll say on the subject.

David Koresh Superstar is a concept album, which is normally one of the more loathsome excesses of pop music. Or perhaps it’s a cast recording of a stage musical that never happened (at least, not yet): the life of Vernon Howell, better known to you and I as David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian Church of Waco, Texas, who collectively had a standoff with the federal government in 1993 that ended with Bradley tanks and machine guns and most of Koresh’s followers finding out firsthand if there really was a Heaven or not.

I grew up in Texas, not terribly far from Waco (though on the other side of Dallas), held in the bosom of that Old Time Religion; my great-grandfather was a minister — albeit a Methodist one, and Methodists are sort of like the caffeine-free diet Coke of Protestantism. We didn’t roll in the aisles or speak in tongues. (Though I did know a mentally challenged kid who became a snake-handling preacher after high school; he was once sodomized with a Golobulus G.I. Joe action figure by another kid while rummaging in a Dumpster, and I always wondered if that had anything to do with his later career choice. That’s a whole other story, though.) Texas Methodists are far more into Sunday potlucks and preachers in business casual playing acoustic guitar on the pulpit than any of the shit Koresh apparently got up to. But Texas is chock full of demented religious fervor, and I certainly knew and was exposed to a lot of people who fully believed that the Rapture was coming, possibly next week. You could tell who they were, because their big American cars all had bumper stickers warning of uncontrolled vehicles, were the Rapture to occur whilst they were driving.

Besides, Texas breeds lunatics. (I’m living proof.) In his brilliant and venomous routine about the Waco standoff, Bill Hicks said “Lemme see here: frustrated rock musician with delusions of grandeur, armed to the teeth and ready to fuck anything that moves. I don’t know how to tell you this…but that sounds like all of my friends in Austin.”

My point is that when Koresh went apeshit, it wasn’t actually all that surprising; and, as Hicks also pointed out, there’s a lot of evidence that the FBI and BATF’s handling of the standoff was a colossal clusterfuck, and that they basically slaughtered the Branch Davidians and Koresh…who were loopy, but not possibly actually breaking any laws; for foreigners and other aliens, it is not illegal to own a military-grade weapons cache in Texas. (Nor is it illegal to kill someone who comes onto your property without your permission; one of the funniest things to me, in the world, is that very little of what Leatherface does in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually against the law, since the teenage kids not only come onto his land without permission, but actually walk into his house without being given permission. As far as I know, the Texas law about defending your property from intruders doesn’t specify how you have to kill said intruders.)

It’s really interesting to hear the Indelicates’ take on all of this. I guessed, and Simon Indelicate confirmed, that he’s a fan of Garth Ennis’s remarkable, bloody, blasphemous and wholly incredible comic series Preacher, which — like David Koresh Superstar — deals with the trials and tribulations of a Texas preacher, albeit a very different one. Ennis is Irish and the Indelicates are British, and in both cases their Texas is a mythical landscape of gun-toting God-ridden white trash, a post-apocalyptic frontier landscape filtered through a thousand cowboy movies and the endless parade of embarrassing stories about the place in the global media. It’s strange to hear the voices of this passion play singing with English accents, the way it’s odd when an occasional Britishism comes out of the mouth of Preacher’s Jesse Custer, but of course these characters aren’t really Texan; they inhabit a notional Lone Star State.

The album follows Koresh’s life from his childhood to his ascension (if you can call it that) to cheap roadside messiah, and eventually to his sudden backhanded step into the global spotlight as a crazed cult leader who reportedly sport-fucked his way through the ranks of his female congregation and, of course, eventually led most of them to a horrible death at the hands of the Feds.

Both structurally and musically, it bears echoes of Luke Haines’s Baader-Meinhof record, which similarly narrated the history of the Red Army Faction. It has the same odd elements of 70s funk and acoustic folk; the similarity is most evident on opening track “Remember The Alamo”, first single “I Am Koresh”, and particularly “McVeigh”, an almost-disco track about Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh that’s reminiscent of “There’s Gonna Be An Accident” from Baader-Meinhof. It has always been apparent that The Indelicates are fans of Haines, his relentless acerbicism and his various musical products (The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder); it would seem like pastiche except for the fact that Simon Indelicate is at least as good a lyricist as Haines is, and certainly at least as clever. I would provide examples for you to pore over, but I don’t have a copy of the lyric sheet for DKS, so you’ll have to trust me.

The Indelicates aren’t playing this for cheap laughs, though the album is shot through with the darkest of black humor: it’s obvious that behind the absurdity and uniquely American excesses of Koresh’s tale, there’s a story about a frankly pathetic man whose delusions created a great deal of horror and terror for a group of people without the innate capacity to see through his cheap bullshit; brainwashed cultists or not, the Indelicates refuse to make them — or Koresh himself — the butt of the joke, and it turns what might have been a simplistic and cruel comedy record in less deft hands into a genuinely tragic musical story.

Not that they don’t use DKS to strike a few blows at the pomposity of musical theater and the notion of the “concept record” itself. “The Road From Houston To Waco”, Koresh’s first-person narrative of his life, sounds like a Broadway composer’s notion of country music (which sounds, to my ears, oddly like 70s-era Jimmy Buffett). “Something Goin’ Down In Waco” has a chorus of various voices that sounds like the unbearable moments in musical theater when spoken lines are shoehorned into sung lyrics. (If it’s not obvious, I labor under a lifelong hatred of musical theater.)

If DKS has an obvious flaw, it’s one that’s endemic to this genre of work: namely, a lack of subtlety. It’s very hard to write narrative non-fictional lyrics while still wrapping yourself in nuance and metaphor; a great example is Dylan’s “Hurricane”, which is maybe his least poetic work (while still being a kickass song). Doing an entire album means you’re sacrificing poetry for description; you stop asking questions and start making declarations. Simon balances this here as best he can, but you do lose a bit of the complexity that makes his work so interesting normally.

On the whole, though, I think David Koresh Superstar does precisely what it’s supposed to do, and does it perfectly well. The album’s story ends with “Superstar”, a melancholy ballad in which Julia Indelicate seemingly plays the part of an angel receiving Koresh into the afterlife, stripping him of his self-illusions and informing him of his precise place in history — which, according to many theologians and thinkers, would place him firmly in Hell. “The Texas sky is great and wide, the ashes drift away / Stutters and drifts away,” Julia sings in her Received Pronunciation accent, and a piercing violin rides Koresh to his judgment.

The album ends properly with a gospel-style reworking of the old blues song “John The Revelator”, complete with choir, which Simon spits out with his characteristic venom. It’s a folk apocalypse, absolutely apropos as a coda to the story of a man who believed himself to be the American Messiah, only to discover at the end that no one at all was going to pluck him from the flames and carry him aloft on the wings of angels — his final and perhaps most important revelation, you might say.

I’ll be honest: when The Indelicates (who, full disclosure, are Internet friends of mine) announced this project, I was a bit nonplussed. But David Koresh Superstar absolutely surpassed my expectations. The Indelicates manage to capture both the deranged eschatological fervor of the Branch Davidians and the bland suburbanism of their aspirations. It’s a challenging and fascinating work from a fascinating and challenging band, and well worth your time.

David Koresh Superstar is available via a pay-as-you-like model from The Indelicates’ record label, Corporate Records.

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