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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Butthole Surfers: Psychic... Powerless... Another Man's Sac

BUTTHOLE SURFERS: PSYCHIC... POWERLESS... ANOTHER MAN'S SAC (1984)

1) Concubine; 2) Eye Of The Chicken; 3) Dum Dum; 4) Woly Boly; 5) Negro Observer; 6) Butthole Surfer; 7) Lady Sniff; 8) Cherub; 9) Mexican Caravan; 10) Cowboy Bob; 11) Gary Floyd.

The process of creative unfurling from «probe EP» to «full-blown LP» level is always nice to watch, provided we are dealing with real, not faked, creativity — and in 1984, Butthole Surfers were on a roll, inspired and encouraged by the realisation that they were able to allow themselves just about anything. Punk attitude, offensive demeanor, dirty humor, psychedelic arrangements, and limitless intrusion into the territory of any randomly picked musical genre — these guys had the advantage of taking nothing so seriously that it would impose any unbreakable rules of musi­cal conduct on their career.

Commercial success not being even a distant objective, they were, nevertheless, not properly «avantgarde» — most of the melodies on this album respect regular blues conventions, and could be characterized as pop rock, blues rock, hard rock, punk rock, maybe a little heavy metal on the side, anyway, nothing particularly out of the ordinary; in any case, the band members did not have the chops to play something trickier than that (and how many bands did, anyway?). How­ever, it is not the core melodies, but the irreverent attitude towards these melodies that counts: the band prepares a package of hilarious shock value, inspired grossness, and unpredictable musical seasoning for each song, and have themselves a jolly good time as each package goes off like a shitbomb in the listeners' faces.

Actually, when I say «hilarious», I need to correct myself. The stuff that the Surfers do here is neither very intelligent nor very funny, and if you are even a little bit stuck up or hung up, it will be very easy to dismiss all these songs as pointless hooliganry. I mean, ʽLady Sniffʼ? Okay, some­body will be sure defend the song as a nasty parody on the redneck and/or white trash ste­reotype, replete with grunts, farts, expectorations, and verbal wonders like "lady walk that greasy gravy!", but somebody else will just as easily say that the whole thing is just a sorry excuse for finally putting some fart noises on tape, something so often used as a threatening allegory by us reviewers but, actually, so rarely encountered in real life. And here it is!

The hilariousness lies not in the offensiveness, though, and not in any alleged attempts at joking: the main strength is in the synthesis of various influences, or in the emotional inversion (corrup­tion!) of musical styles. For instance, ʽDum Dumʼ is really a spoof on Black Sabbath's ʽChildren Of The Graveʼ, borrowing the song's rhythm section and crossing it with trebly-wobbly, «clucky» lead guitar that sounds like a cross between Duane Eddy and Adrian Belew. ʽWoly Bolyʼ lifts the distorted descending guitar intro off some garage classic whose name escapes me at present (no, it is not ʽWooly Bullyʼ, as one might probably suggest) and reworks it into the general melody of the song, but that general melody tends to «melt» and become splattered against the wall, only to pick itself up and then be smashed again every now and then (fortunately, the rhythm section is tight enough to allow Leary to do whatever he wants). And ʽButthole Surferʼ is indeed like surf-punk, only much dirtier than your average Agent Orange.

If you get offended easily, the first song to be checked here is certainly not ʽLady Sniffʼ, but the six-minute plus workout ʽCherubʼ, which alternates between power-chord based sludge-metal sections and odd «astral» passages where one guitar sounds like a spaceship, plotting a complex course in an asteroid field, and the other guitars crash and bust around it like those particular asteroids, collision with which was inavoidable. And at certain intervals they even play a chord that makes you expect they will rip into Hendrix's ʽThird Stone From The Sunʼ at any moment, but they're just teasing you. This is really the kind of hilariousness I am referring to, certainly not the fact that they use the word "negro" in a song title or anything.

But the quintessential BS song on this album is probably ʽCowboy Bobʼ, which was already made available earlier in the live version on Live PCPPEP; here, the production is cleaner, but Haynes is delivering his lyrics through a bullhorn, so you can take your personal pick — anyway, the song has it all: silly irreverential title that has nothing to do with the lyrics or melody, a nasty, repetitive, droning hard rock bassline à la Budgie's ʽBreadfanʼ, supported with a saxophone part for contrast, wild screaming in the background (and sometimes in the foreground), psychedelic guitar soloing, and schizophrenic lyrics ("I've always got a knife in my back!", which could be a good tagline for the band's entire career). This is what you get, basically, when you cross Iggy Pop with Keith Moon — yes, that's the very essence of Butthole Surfers.

To call this record an overall «classic» would be an insult to the band itself, I believe: they are not here to amaze you or make you rethink your life, they are here to introduce a bit of creativity and imagi­nation into the old art of grossing-out. But in the somewhat parallel (and sometimes a wee bit perpendicular) universe of flippy-freaky, it is a classic, unquestionably deserving its own flip­py-freaky thumbs up; I am still trying to imagine how that would look on brown paper, but per­haps I have not had my proper fill of ʽCherubʼ and ʽCowboy Billʼ just yet to understand that. 

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