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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers

BUTTHOLE SURFERS (1983)

1) The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey's Grave; 2) Hey; 3) Something; 4) Bar-B-Q Pope; 5) Wichita Cathedral; 6) Sui­cide; 7) The Revenge Of Anus Presley.

Like Kurt Cobain, you just gotta respect any band that calls itself «Butthole Surfers». On one hand, the name is more «irreverently amusing» than flat-out gross (like Anal Cunt, something that requires even more imagination than the idea of a butthole surfer but ends up being disgus­ting in any case). On the other hand, the name totally and utterly precludes such a potential em­barrassment as «commercial success». Let's face it, fame and fortune are for losers — real men find satisfaction in anything but fame and fortune, and what better means are there to get them completely and permanently out of your way than calling yourself «Butthole Surfers»?

This debut EP was originally released in 1983 on the Dead Kennedys' label, Alternative Tentacles; apparently, Jello Biafra was so overwhelmed by the guys that he promised to release their stuff, pro­vided they could find somebody to lend them some studio time — which they did, proving that truly nothing is impossible. The band's lineup at the time included Gibby Haynes on lead vocals and saxophone; Paul Leary on guitar and occasional lead vocals; Bill Jolly on bass; and a whole set of different drummers, some of whom they probably even forgot to mention on the cre­dits. And who'd want to look at the credits, with that album art, anyway?

The music... okay, this is music. Basically, Butthole Surfers play «punk rock», but not «regular» or «hardcore» punk rock — rather something like absurdist or dadaist punk rock. Unlike union­ized punkers, these guys have little concern for the evil grin of The System, or the everyday sweat of The Working Man: what they are more concerned about is testing the limits of the punk idiom, whether it can incorporate humor, purely artistic offensiveness, raffinated craziness, and just about anything else you'd like to insert, at random, inside the idiom. For instance, you might want to play a bit of college-style folk-rock with psychedelic guitar overdubs (ʽHeyʼ), or some repeti­tive one-chord blues vamps (ʽSomethingʼ), and they'll all fit in with the more overtly punkish material like ʽThe Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey's Graveʼ (does he really?).

It may all seem silly, but the band gets by on the sheer strength of its imagination — their musi­cal and cultural knowledge are undeniable, and they mix small pinches of everything in such incre­dibly unimaginable combinations that it never feels like the only purpose of making this EP was to gross out the audience. So there's a lot of predictable offensiveness thrown at religion, the Pope in person (ʽBar-B-Q Popeʼ — does there exist a Sinead O'Connor cover of this anywhere?), pop icons like Hendrix and Elvis, and dead parents, but it's all funny, and some of it is even catchy: simplistic vamp or not, that "something she said to me last night" bit from ʽSomethingʼ really sticks in the brain. And speaking of surfing, there is a little bit of surf guitar on ʽWichita Cathed­ralʼ, as if they were actually influenced by Agent Orange.

In addition, Paul Leary is quite an in­ventive guitarist who likes to introduce just a wee bit of dissonance in his overall smooth lead guitar playing — not a lot, like Greg Ginn, but just a bit to throw you off balance. That's on the less messy songs, like ʽWichita Cathedralʼ, but then there are also intentionally messy trips — like ʽSuicideʼ, an unlikely marriage between old school rock'n'roll and free-form avantgarde music where, I suppose, rock'n'roll symbolizes "the walls of my life" and free-form avantgarde suggests suicide. Or there's just total hooliganry, like ʽThe Revenge Of Anus Presleyʼ, as full of obscenities as if it were the band's take on an underground rap ritual, while the guitars spiral around you in a psychopathic, but humorous manner. Like a comical, lighthearted take on Stooges-style madness.

In January 2003, the album was re-released on CD together with its follow-up EP, Live PCPPEP, recorded live (indeed) in a club in San Antonio and originally released in the fall of 1984. A sepa­rate review for this EP would be rather superfluous, especially since it mostly just reproduces Butthole Surfers in its entirety, although the show does start off with a ravenously insane take on ʽCowboy Bobʼ which is a preview of the version on their next studio album. There are a couple bonuses on the CD release, though, such as the previously unreleased blues-punk-rocker ʽGary Floydʼ, and a bass-heavy post-punk rocker ʽSinister Crayonʼ which, fairly speaking, sounds rather dull and un-ironic next to the obscene hilariousness of the trailblazing EP, and was pro­bably left off for a good reason — this kind of stuff would rather suit, say, Pere Ubu. Oh, and if your ears are sharp enough to penetrate into the stage banter, you do need this by all means — Haynes is constantly spouting insults to the public, at one point even remarking that they have managed to clear out most of the audience, as if it were a good thing...

In any case, both the original EP and the new, much expanded release get a thumbs up rating — it might be safe to say that in 1983, nobody took punk as un-seriously as these guys, and that is quite a refreshing thing to remember. Of course, as far as irreverent songwriting is concerned, this is not Ween-level quality, but these guys are Ween's spiritual ancestors, and we at least have to respect this, even if we don't necessarily have to enjoy all the jokes or be amazed at all the little experiments.

1 comment:

  1. Butthole Surfers reviews on Only Solitaire?? This is just beautiful. Thank you, George.

    ReplyDelete