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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Butthole Surfers: Weird Revolution

BUTTHOLE SURFERS: WEIRD REVOLUTION (2001)

1) The Weird Revolution; 2) The Shame Of Life; 3) Dracula From Houston; 4) Venus; 5) Shit Like That; 6) Mexico; 7) Intelligent Guy; 8) Get Down; 9) Jet Fighter; 10) The Last Astronaut; 11) Yentel; 12) They Came In.

Apparently, the Butthole Surfers' little romance with mainstream popularity did not last long. Despite the relative success of ʽPepperʼ, already their next album, After The Astronaut, fully recorded and ready for pressing, did not pass the Capitol quality test and was rejected, which ul­timately cost them their contract and a lot of nerves. The band did not resurface again until 2001, with a new bass player (Nathan Calhoun), a new manager, a new (smaller) contract, and a totally new musical face — and I am not too sure about how exciting that face was.

Essentially, Butthole Surfers' last ever completed LP is an «alternative hip hop» album, whatever that means. And do get this right: it is not a «Butthole Surfers album with elements of hip hop», which might have been an interesting thing to witness — it is simply as if Haynes and Leary be­came so fascinated with hip-hop culture that they agreed to subject themselves to its rules, where earlier they accepted no rules whatsoever, and trade most of their identity for some collective fetish. Sure, not all of the album is hip- or trip-hop, but much, if not most, is, and those songs that do not accept the trappings of hip-hop sound like generic alt-rock, which is even worse.

Actually, the really worst thing is the unapologetically solemn tone that the album assumes from the very beginning — with that spoken-word announcement dubbed over a boring beat: "On be­half of Dr. Timothy Leary, in association with the legions of illuminated social rejects..." Timo­thy Leary? Timothy Leary's dead, as Ray Thomas told us long before Timothy Leary's physical death, and this whole look-at-me-I'm-so-unbearably-regally-psychedelic stylistics last made sense maybe on some Parliament/Funkadelic records in the mid-1970s. This is just bullshit, as if they are trying to stupefy us with a 30-year old circus program. And no, just because they are trying to hybridize psychedelia with hip-hop does not make this any more forgivable.

As if that weren't enough, the first actual song here, ʽThe Shame Of Lifeʼ, is a collaboration with Kid Rock, which is sufficient reason for criminal prosecution in some well-advanced countries. The lyrics are reasonably intelligent — this is basically a reflection on the hedonistic-excessive nature of hip-hop and its imminent arisal out of the state we're all in ("my shallow mind is just a sign of your game of life") — but the music is limited to a simplistic heavy rock riff and some sound effects scattered around for creepiness' sake. If I didn't know this was a Butthole Surfers composition, I'd never have paid it any mind in the first place. It doesn't help, either, that ʽDracula From Houstonʼ, combining rapped verses with a garage rock riff that had already been used ap­proximately 50,000 times in the past three decades (and that's just the verse — the chorus rips off ʽSmells Like Teen Spiritʼ, if you can believe), is possibly the worst song these guys ever commit­ted to tape. What's up with this commercial pop-punk shit?

All right, I will admit that it does get better as it goes on — ʽGet Downʼ, for instance, is funky as hell, catchy as heck, and funny: its angle comes across as parodic, and at the same time Leary gets to lay across some nice riffs and astral phased-out solos. ʽMexicoʼ, which has nothing to do with Mexico, draws some Eastern melodic overtones across a predominantly electronic arrangement, and makes fun of most of the world's major religions, past and present, in the process. A couple other tracks mix the weird and the normal in acceptable, though not necessarily mind-blowing, proportions. But for every track like that there's a ʽJet Fighterʼ, a surprisingly sincere-sounding piece of anti-war satire with a bland folk-rock arrangement, or a ʽLast Astronautʼ, which is barely listenable because of awful production (the main gimmick is a set of vocal overdubs that were apparently captured from space, and, predictably, they sound like shit).

The main point is: this is not «Butthole Surfers». Bands do change and evolve, sometimes turning into something you could never ever have suspected from them in the beginning — but it's all right as long as the original spirit remains alive. If there is a spirit in Weird Revolution, it is buried so deep under the ice of the synthetic, stiffening production that, for all intents and pur­poses, it may as well be dead. Not only does the record take itself way too seriously (I mean, what the heck? Just because they have embraced hip hop, they think that they now need to tiptoe through the tulips?), but it blocks their individual talents, especially Leary's, and asserts way too much discipline over a world whose main value used to lie in its undisciplined attitude. Maybe it's not awful — but it's a very, very, very disappointing metamorphosis.

And even if the band never officially disbanded (in fact, as a touring outfit, the Surfers were periodically quite active throughout the 2000s), the very fact that Weird Revolution was not followed by anything else is telling — I'm pretty sure that the band understood that it lost its way, creatively, and that under these conditions it would be more prudent to honestly rebrand them­selves as a nostalgia act than to continue this frustrating «modernisation». Come to think of it, the Surfers always were a nostalgic act, from the very beginning — they were always successfully busy carving out the future by peering into the past, and it is only when they began consciously peering into the future that success began to evade them.

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