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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Butthole Surfers: Independent Worm Saloon

BUTTHOLE SURFERS: INDEPENDENT WORM SALOON (1993)

1) Who Was In My Room Last Night?; 2) The Wooden Song; 3) Tongue; 4) Chewin' George Lucas' Chocolate; 5) Goofy's Concern; 6) Alcohol; 7) Dog Inside Your Body; 8) Strawberry; 9) Some Dispute Over T-Shirts Sales; 10) Dancing Fool; 11) You Don't Know Me; 12) The Annoying Song; 13) Dust Devil; 14) Leave Me Alone; 15) Edgar; 16) The Ballad Of Naked Man; 17) Clean It Up; 18) Ghandi*.

Lookee here, Butthole Surfers go «mainstream», and all it took was the overnight success of one Kurt Cobain, which, for a strange brief moment in time, convinced major labels that people would buy all sorts of artistically independent weird shit from them, rather than just the carefully calculated and marketed crap — even stuff from a band called Butthole Surfers, who not only did not see it fit to rename themselves for their debut on Capitol, but actually insisted on the name being splattered in bright, shiny, ugly letters all over the album cover. And, considering that this is probably the friendly smiling face of a large tapeworm that we see framed by the name, now we actually know who might be the proverbial «butthole surfer».

But it's not as if the switch to a major label did not change the band one bit — on the contrary, Independent Worm Saloon is Haynes and Co.'s most normal, straightforward, accessible album to date, and could easily be regarded as a sellout by hardcore veterans. Produced by none other than Led Zeppelin's own John Paul Jones, this is a record of relatively conventional blues rock, hard rock, dark folk, and occasionally industrial-metal songs that may have some shocking power and may be somewhat offensive, but are in no way baffling to the mind. This is simply Butthole Surfers doing good old rock music — and seemingly enjoying it.

And I enjoy it, too, as it fits my observations — the best things in life often come out when we have weirdos acting normal, rather than weirdos acting weird (or normals acting normal, for that matter). The instrumental tones, the riffage, the little bits of studio overdubbing, the song titles and lyrics, the diversity of approach, the passion of delivery, the way the band so totally and reck­lessly gets into everything it does — I buy this approach completely, even if most of the riffs here are just minor variations on old hard rock, punk, and metal patterns (and what isn't?). Simply put, this is one of the most kickass albums of 1993, ladies and gentlemen.

Most of the songs are short, but when they're long, they frickin' deserve to be long — like ʽDust Devilʼ, which is like a rougher, crunchier, more psychedelic take on the ZZ Top rock sound, with a bit of Judas Priest thrown in, but really all of this is just an inspirational basis for Leary's love affair with the multiple avatars of his guitar, which start off simply enough, but then gradually build up — at near-top speed! — to a near-apocalyptic explosion, capitalising on the promise that was hinted at on ʽBarking Dogsʼ. On headphones, this does evil things to your brain, although even Jimi would probably suggest that the man is going over the top with this. But hey, if some­body is supposed to go over the top, let it rather be Paul Leary than, say, Joe Satriani.

Each and every one of the heavy, fast, «industrialized» rockers on this album rules to one degree or another — starting from the first one, ʽWho Was In My Room Last Night?ʼ, which takes an old riff from the fast part of Led Zeppelin's ʽDazed And Confusedʼ (no coincidence that John Paul was in the studio, right?) and gruffs it up to the point where you almost begin to believe that these boys actually mean business, and that meeting them in a dark alley would not be good for your health. The more punk-style ʽGoofy's Concernʼ is not nearly as serious, but it features the grumbliest guitar tone from Leary ever, and ʽDancing Foolʼ is the punchiest indictment of dance-oriented music ever written, with Haynes impersonating "a dancin' fool" and "the disco king" to  merry martial rhythms that actually have their roots in ʽThe Immigrant Songʼ rather than any­thing even remotely connected with disco, while Leary counteracts with a guitar riff that seems copped from some baroque chamber music suite. Yes, really. I know what it means, but I can't explain.

The more quiet tunes on the album are not as immediately striking, but eventually ʽThe Ballad Of Naked Manʼ, with its relentless acoustic guitar and banjo strumming, begins to come across as some sort of program statement — where the "naked man" in question is taken to be a symbol of Truth and Reality, scorned and shunned by the truth-fearing population ("so get the hell away from me, you goddamn naked man, go the fuck away from me back to Naked land!") — and Haynes is seen as the ragged travelin' minstrel, preaching folksy simplicity to the crowds. The problem is that the quality of the Surfers' music usually depends on the extent to which Leary's talents have been taxed, and he frankly doesn't have much to do on ʽNaked Manʼ, so I'd rather go with ʽThe Wooden Songʼ, where he does get a chance to crash through the monotonousness of its slow country waltzing with a scratchy, squiggly, quasi-atonal guitar solo.

But heck, I even have to confess that I love ʽThe Annoying Songʼ, despite the fact that it was al­most certainly recorded to annoy — what else are those «chipmunk» vocals for? Yet somehow, when used in the context of this novelty hard rock song, especially at the climactic screaming outbursts at the end of each verse, they sound... hilarious.

Of course, the Surfers are still patented jesters, and none of this should be taken too seriously, even with the vocals erased. But then, in a way, all rock music — heck, maybe all music in gene­ral — is sort of an absurd enterprise, and here the Surfers are just taking some aspects of it and driving them towards a logical height of absurdity. They do it more self-consciously than, say, AC/DC, which means that Independent Worm Saloon could never hope to achieve popularity among the masses, for whom it would still be way too weird; but I could easily see how it could be some stuffy intellectual's favorite rock'n'roll record of all time. Hell, maybe it's on the way to becoming my favorite rock'n'roll record — at least, ʽDust Devilʼ would most unquestionably land in a personal Top 1000 rock'n'roll songs or so. Thumbs up, totally.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to think if they had the funds & studio backing, they would have done this record earlier...I also think this is when we should jump off this Butthole train.

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