Relationship Of Command:At The Drive-In
Artist: At the Drive-In
Date Released: September 21, 2000
Produced By: Ross Robinson
- Pattern Against User
- One Armed Scissor
- Sleepwalk Capsules
- Invalid Letter Dept.
- Mannequin Republic
- Rolodex Propaganda
- Non-Zero Possibility
The mythology surrounding El Paso's At the Drive-In is epic in proportion. An indefinite hiatus at the pinnacle of their careers in 2001 will, barring a money-raping reunion tour with half the energy and none of the relevance, stand as the final testament to the band's ethos of doing things their way... Even with major labels bidding for their attention and crowds of people lining up around the block for their concerts, the quintet was never shy about quitting on their own terms. They did so at a heavy price: "What could've been" stands as the biggest question of all, a fact made more poignant by the inferior efforts of the subsequently divided camps; the conservative Sparta leaned more and more on bigger hooks and choruses and the too-prog-for-their-own-good The Mars Volta made life impossible for their sober and straight listeners. Relationship of Command represents the fusion of these two bands almost impossibly well, blending prog leanings with straightforward rock action to produce what was arguably the best album of 2000 this side of Kid A and certainly one of the most influential in the new millennium.
To capture lightning in a bottle, At the Drive-In had to take everything they knew from In/Casino/Out two years previously and hone it to perfection. It was never going to be easy, not with the expectations as high as they were following 1999's distinguished Vaya EP, their tour supporting Rage Against The Machine, and the announcement that they'd be working with nü-metal staple Ross Robinson manning the boards. Arcarsenal, though, cares of this for nothing: Rumbling in on a tribal beat more at home in the Amazon, Jim Ward's guitar sets the tone while Omar Rodriguez-Lopez does what he can to provide the texture as background. It works: After an interruption and a brief moment of feedback-disguised respite, Arcarsenal launches into the furious pace it would maintain to its breathtaking finale. How Cedric Bixler-Zavala ever managed to not destroy his vocal chords screaming "Beware" in those final moments is beyond me, but Pattern Against User makes no apologies and is one of the album's better-known tracks despite the fact that it was never actually a single. One Armed Scissor is, in addition to being the first single and most widely-recognized song, also the band's most acclaimed cut. Many consider it a career highlight, and it's easy to see why as Bixler effortlessly blurs pseudo-political rhetoric with Joyce-on-Chomsky stream-of-consciousness as the band meshes all the electronic experimentation they could find in the kitchen sink with all the primal rock instincts they'd come to be known for. It is youthful, inspiring, and exuberant... In short, a perfect representation in four minutes of what the band has become legendary for. Sleepwalk Capsules is no slouch either, taking a mid-song breakdown of "Lazarus threw the party, Lazarus threw the fight" as a breath and then launching again into the base riff of the song. What follows, though, was the song that turned at least one man on to the band: Invalid Letter Dept. speaks in typically abstract terms about the woman-killings in Juarez, Mexico. Sonically, it is a revelation: At just over six minutes, Bixler and the boys take a long time to build to the unquestionable highlight of the album. After wavering back and forth between spoken-word verse and shout-match chorus, the band stops everything and Bixler whispers twice for all to hear intently, "Dancing on the corpses ashes..." before launching into the best line of the album and a phenomenal finale worthy of all the praise it should've garnered. Even if the first four minutes don't grab your attention, the final two should... And if they don't, you're listening to the wrong album.
Everything after that could be summed up as an anticlimax, but it doesn't work that way: Even if Mannequin Republic is a bit weak, the skit introducing the submerged sounds of Enfilade makes up for it (Not to mention the song!), and Iggy Pop's assistance on Rolodex Propaganda is appreciated as well. Quarantined is another corker that is kept concise on record because, in late renditions of the song live, it was often explored and played out over lengths as high as nine minutes. That they were constantly manipulating and transforming these songs even on their last tour just over a year after they were first created goes to show how talented this band really was. If Quarantined was spectacular for its ambience, Cosmonaut is spectacular for its straight-ahead aggression. The epileptic riffage of the second half of the song is admirably tight and yet another album highlight.
It takes a drawn-out Non-Zero Possibility to close the album on a slightly muted note, but despite its lack of sonic splendor, the closer hardly matters; what the band had done by then was already clear. On both the Japanese version of the initial printings and later re-releases by Fearless Records, decent exclusions Extracurricular and Catacombs joined the original tracklisting to prove that the original eleven songs were more than good enough to sustain themselves. In fact, Relationship of Command deserves every accolade that has been written about it. Forward-thinking, relentlessly energetic, deeply passionate: At the Drive-In's remarkable triumph, though fleeting, can never be sullied by the reputations of its successors. Ironically, its greatness now seems beyond even its own creators. That makes it formidable. - PMasterson