Review: Steve Lieberman The Gangsta Rabbi “My Magic Last Days”

Steve Lieberman The Gangsta Rabbi “My Magic Last Days”

30 Jul, 2012 Alex Henderson

Because Brooklyn-born, Long Island-based Steve Lieberman calls himself The Gangsta Rabbi, some people might wonder if perhaps My Magic Last Days contains some type of fusion of hip-hop and Jewish music (perhaps hip-hop meets klezmer). Well, there are musicians who have combined hip-hop and klezmer, but that isn’t what happens on My Magic Last Days. This self-released 74-minute CD favors a combination of punk, thrash metal and industrial rock, and the material is extremely raw and jagged. My Magic Last Days doesn’t pretend to be even remotely mainstream, which is a big part of its unpolished, self-indulgent charm.

Lieberman (a singer, songwriter and producer who was born in 1958) has been playing in bands since the 1970s and is now 54. According to his publicity bio, Lieberman was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in September 2011 and has undergone extensive chemotherapy. My Magic Last Days was recorded from August 2011-June 2012; some of the material was recorded before the diagnosis, and some of it was recorded when he was receiving chemotherapy treatments. Various musicians have, over the years, made recordings during major illnesses; quite often, those recordings have had a wistful, introspective, sweetly contemplative quality. But My Magic Last Days, on the other hand, is a very noisy, in-your-face CD.

My Magic Last Days rocks angrily and aggressively, recalling the primal rawness of early American and British punk. Tunes like “Apocalypse for Most,” “I Wanna Be Clare Burson” and “Mourn for Me Like the Prophet” hint at the Sex Pistols, one of the most influential punk bands of the late 1970s. Yet Lieberman (who plays all the instruments on this disc) is by no means offering a carbon copy of late 1970s punk. Lieberman gets a lot of inspiration from thrash metal, hard rock and industrial rock as well, but while “Crotch Rocket,” “We’re All Derek Jeter” and other selections rock intensely and aggressively, My Magic Last Days isn’t brutally heavy and claustrophobic in the way that Slayer, for example, can be brutally heavy and claustrophobic. Lieberman isn’t going for the type of crushing density that so many death metal, black metal and metalcore bands are known for. He is, however, going for a very noisy and distorted production. His vocals are buried way down in the mix, making the lyrics hard to understand and giving My Magic Last Days a very industrialized feel. Lieberman’s approach is as industrialized on “I Hate the State Comptroller,” “They Milked His Aorta, La La La” and “My Last Blast” as it is on “Puppy in a Cup” and “Jorge Posada Bobble-Head.”

Occasionally, Lieberman employs a Euro-disco/Euro-dance beat but does so without sacrificing his punk and metal appeal; that happens on “I Hate the State” (which is a different song from “I Hate the State Comptroller”) and “Hall ‘El 63” (at least at the beginning of the tune). And for those who are old enough to remember the “death to disco” movement of the late 1970s, it is truly ironic to hear punk, Euro-disco/Euro-dance and metal elements combined in that way. Back in the late 1970s, many punk artists absolutely hated disco; they insisted that punk was as anti-disco as it was anti-corporate rock. But a lot changed in the 1980s, when countless rockers decided that dance music and funk were not their enemy and a lot of white kids got heavily into hip-hop. Many of the industrial rockers who emerged in the 1980s saw no reason why one couldn’t be influenced by metal, punk and dance music all at once. So when someone as metallic, thrashy and punk-minded as Lieberman makes some Euro-dance moves on “I Hate the State” and “Hall ‘El 63,” it shows how much dance music’s image has improved in the rock world over the years.

Again, My Magic Last Days is not an album that pretends to be mainstream in any way; the CD is as defiantly uncommercial as it is eccentric. And while music this noisy, jagged and self-indulgent isn’t for everyone, it’s a fun listen if one has a taste for snarling sensory assault.

Review by Alex Henderson
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)