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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cardiacs: Guns


1) Spell With A Shell; 2) There's Good Cud; 3) Wind And Rains Is Cold; 4) Cry Wet Smile Dry; 5) Jitterbug; 6) Sleep All Eyes Open; 7) Come Back Clammy Lammy; 8) Clean That Evil Mud Out Your Soul; 9) Ain't He Messy Though; 10) Signs; 11) Song Of A Dead Pest; 12) Will Bleed Amen.

I wish I could say something like «on the last Cardiacs album, Tim Smith comes to his senses and delivers a meaningful, resonant swansong where all of the band's strengths combine in logical rather than narcisitically irritant ways». But Guns was never ever intended as the band's swan­song, and even though in terms of complexity and accessibility, it is clearly an intentional step back from the brainkill of Sing To God, very little had truly changed on the main segments of the Cardiacs' front over those three last years of the Nineties.

With the same lineup and the same stylistics, Guns is Sing To God's little underdeveloped brother — another energetic, psychotic, overblown celebration of God-knows-what for God-knows-whatever-reasons. Tracks like ʻThere's Good Cudʼ or ʻWill Bleed Amenʼ are excellent representatives of their prog-pop-punk hybrid, with the distorted riffs taken from punk, the ditzy keyboards and vocal harmonies from pop, and the constant tempo and structural changes from prog — meaning that all the good sides of all these genres generally get neutralized by each other, and leave me feeling neither angry nor joyful nor even too perplexed at what I have just heard (and the exact same thing goes for the lyrics, which, by and by, seem to have been written based on a purely aleatory principle — "there's good cud, there's dead good sticker sing mercy alive hot dog love's a-winnin'" is a typical example — could we please alert the Bullshit Police?).

I count one track here that is really interesting and could be recommended to a wide audience: ʻJitterbugʼ, after a few minutes of the usual Cardiacal mess (mutually counteracting indie-rock guitar and New Wave keyboards, each of them existing in its own autonomous world), suddenly transforms into some sort of medieval-inspired «psychedelic Mass», with Tim's spiralling vocals adorned by coherently spiralling kaleidoscopic keyboards and the whole thing acquiring an «alternative angelic» quality. When I compare this with the climactic resolution of ʻDirty Boyʼ on the previous record, I can't help but think that maybe Tim Smith missed his true vocation — re­viving and reinventing the chorale form for a new age. Because once it's over, they get back to their usual tricks — playing rock music that does not have the feel of rock music, brewing a «delicious» stew of musical fish, pickles, and chocolate for those few select palates that can taste it and stomachs that can digest it.

Oddly enough, for the next eight years the band pretty much stopped releasing new material, con­centrating instead on live performances (including focused revivals of their earliest songs from the cassette tape epoch and even before that) — before Tim Smith collapsed from a heart attack and stroke in 2008, from which he is still slowly trying to recover even now; so, for all we know, Guns may have to remain the last Cardiacs album for eternity. But since there is nothing about the album, either objectively or intutitively-subjectively, to suggest a «conclusive» nature, so too will I refrain from any conclusions and end this section on a «to be continued...» note. I mean, regardless of my attitude towards Tim Smith's music, there's no denying the unusual nature of his brain or the adventurousness of his spirit, so here's hoping for an eventual recovery and more of those awfully frustrating Cardiacs albums for us to argue about. In the meantime, I will try to leave this one unrated — at least it does not try the listener's patience for so much time, and I can add ʻJitterbugʼ to the small «best-of» collection that this band deserves, despite all the criticism.


  1. As far as I know, the lyrics to this album were written in a deliberate "cut up" style that utilized "found objects" to create different word combinations.

    I have no idea on the methodology behind this approach (how texts were found, how they were cut up and reassembled, why it was done this way, etc.) but that explains the jumbled nature of the words.

    Not that it means they're good lyrics as such, but there was a reason for it, apparently.

  2. "(and the exact same thing goes for the lyrics, which, by and by, seem to have been written based on a purely aleatory principle — "there's good cud, there's dead good sticker sing mercy alive hot dog love's a-winnin'" is a typical example — could we please alert the Bullshit Police?)."

    Right, because non-linear nonsensical lyrics are such bullshit. Not like 'I Am the Walrus', of course. Or Bob Dylan.

    1. In defense of the latter two, I must say that Lennon's and Dylan's non-linear lyrics are at least humorous. Tim Smith's ones are just random nonsense. I'd love to have a "semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower" from him, but no dice.

    2. I think some cultural references might have passed you by, George. Most of the songs on this album reference the classic Robert Mitchum movie The Night Of The Hunter. "Hot dog, loves a'winnin!" is part of the routine phony preacher Harry Powell uses on his parishioners. The song "Wind and Rains Is Cold" has "hide your HATE hand", referencing the tattoo on the preacher's knuckles, and "with her hair waving all lazy and soft, like meadowgrass under the flood" is describing the fate that befalls Shelley Winters' character at the hands of Powell. Here's a handy video illustrating this!

      Tim's other sources of lyrical pillaging around this time seem to've been "The Grapes Of Wrath", and a 19th century Portuguese to English dictionary -

  3. This album is like a Rutles parody of Cardiacs.

  4. Cool! Thanks for the film revelation.

    So Guns is a concept album of sorts? Always thought the cover art evoked a foreboding b&w noirish feel which set it apart from previous album images.

    GS is spot-on regarding Gun's stylistic relationship with its predecessor ... coming-on like Sing to God Part 3, being a sonic extension of Part 2's experiments in extended/warped psychedelia. Again, cool that Jitterbug was singled out as a highlight, but trust me, the remaining tracks soon reveal their charms ... especially Signs.

  5. This is my first exposure to them, heard it well after Tim's strokes. Lots of American influence on this, even sounds a bit like Pixies on quiet/loud tracks like Signs. That goes with Night of the Hunter as Phil already shared. If you like Jitterbug and chorale bits, you might be at home on the side projects, like The Sea Nymphs, Mr and Mrs. Smith and Mr. Drake. I find myself listening to them a lot more lately, alongside Stars In Battledress, whom Tim once produced for. I might actually prefer their version of Foundling from StG, moving it to mostly piano.

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