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5 fundamentally flawed albums you need to own

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Foetus GASH hidden pic

3. Foetus – GASH

Foetus - GASH

Oh, good grief! Can you get through an entire blog post without mentioning JG Thirlwell? Well, that would only be possible if he wasn’t like a combination of Kevin Bacon, Pete Postlethwaite and Christopher Lee in terms of sheer ubiquity. (That’s 445 films. This is Jim’s discography.) Case. In. Point.

The album

There was a phase in the 90s when major labels signed the unlikeliest of artists. Sony picked up Foetus, which in hindsight seems the craziest move in music history – but not much weirder than Interscope signing NIN, the band that brought you the Grammy-winning ‘Fist Fuck‘ (remixed, of course, by JG Thirlwell) – but at the time was part of a policy of casting a wide net. I mean, if Chumbafuckingwamba could have a Top Five record, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that such a determinedly oblique act could have widespread appeal.

The problem

It’s just completely anti-commercial. The first track is slow and dirge-y, the second is nasty and takes a careful listen to determine which side of the racism divide it falls on, and the third is sheer noise. It’s quite probably the least saleable album in Sony’s history. I don’t know what the Japanese is for, “What exactly the fuck are we supposed to do with this?”, but I can guarantee it was heard in Columbia marketing HQ back in April 1995. Basically, half the album is unbearable – and I mean that in contrast to Thirlwell’s ear-torturing first album, DEAF. I can’t find an example of ‘Downfall’ to play you, but it sounds like a vicious, possessed toddler on a sugar-crack high screaming in your ear for three minutes. It doesn’t really let up after that, either.

The story goes that Thirlwell kept making it bigger and louder and more until all the subtlety and nuance was buried under the sheer weight of the noise. (It took me 15 years to notice the xylophone on ‘Steal Your Life Away’.) When you turn absolutely everything up to 11, all that emerges is a cacophonous din. If that wasn’t enough, Alex Winter edited in so many cuts to the video for ‘Verklemmt’ that watching it would give practically anyone a seizure.

Why you need to own it

Because, if you can get past the painful shrieking and unwatchable video, you have an album with several of the greatest songs ever recorded. If NAIL is Thirlwell’s Loveless (as good as albums get) then GASH is his Nevermind (the one with the best songs). The aforementioned ‘Steal Your Life Away’ has one of the slinkiest, sexiest basslines ever, ‘They Are Not So True’ is as intimidatingly pretty as a starry night at the North Pole, and ‘Slung’ is a swoonsome, storming 11-minute jazz number that even your mother would like.

‘Hammer Falls’ sounds like Cop Shoot Cop beating up Cornershop by firing Henry Rollins out of a cannon at them. ‘Unique’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

‘Mutapump’ is so brutally beautiful that I can only listen to it when I’m feeling down because it can wreck my mood – but whenever I’m unhappy, no matter how low I’m feeling, it can catch me in its arms and carry me home in five and a half minutes. Not many songs can so utterly transform a mood, but ‘Mutapump’ couldn’t have a greater effect if it gave me a back rub while feeding me chocolate.

(continues overleaf)

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13 Responses to 5 fundamentally flawed albums you need to own

  1. Capitalist Lion Tamer May 23, 2012 at 11:30 am

    First off, let me just say that I LOVED this post. Great selections, great writing, etc. The only “but” that I’m going to follow up the praise with is not even an argument with anything written, so much as an argument with a perception that is common with a lot of people.

    The flaw is not in GT’s album. The flaw is with the copyright system. Without even delving into copyright’s ridiculous length (lifetime + 70 years here in the US), the fact that fair use is decided usually via the courtroom rather than by a clear set of standards is problematic to say the least.

    Those operating under the assumption that they are operating under the “requirements” of fair use often are surprised to find themselves at the receiving end of threatening legal letters and settlement requests. Perversely, as expensive as the settlement requests are, the other option (going to court) is even more expensive. In these instances, copyright is used as nothing more than a thug’s gun in a shakedown attempt.

    Sampling has pretty much been eliminated for up-and-coming artists and instead is left to the P.Diddy’s and Jay-Z’s of the world who have the money and “entertainment” lawyers capable of handling outsized clearance payments and incoming legal threats. Someone wishing to “borrow” a 4-second loop may very well get the permission of the artist sampled only to find themselves in a conversation with an entertainment lawyer or label rep, who will ask for flat rates as high as $40,000 PER SAMPLE, ignoring any context such as length of sample or the artists’ expected income from the track/album featuring the sample. Ridiculous.

    RANT CONCLUDED.

    Thanks for giving me a reason to check out GASH again, a statement that makes it sound as though I just received my NOT GAY diploma from a pray-the-gay-away retreat. As a guy, I have a hard time parsing this sentence: “‘Mutapump’ couldn’t have a greater effect if it gave me a back rub while feeding me chocolate.” As far as I can make out, it roughly translates to Guy Talk as “couldn’t have a greater effect if it gave me a blow job while giving me a blow job.” Granted, it’s probably a physical impossibility, but piling a Good Thing on top of another Good Thing seems to be the intent.

    Also thanks for trying to play up the strengths of The Process. It’s not that I ever felt it was underrated. But I did feel it contained more good tracks than could reasonably be expected from an album with its history. I still remember Compuserve discussion boards at which speculation as to how much the album (if it ever came out) would suck. One of the primary rationales for the impending “sucking” was the fact that Ogre had kicked the heroin habit. Artists NOT on drugs make shit albums. It’s a statement I find hard to disagree with. But then it arrived and while it was no (INSERT NAME OF SEVERAL OTHER SP ALBUMS), it was better than it should have been.

    I also still remember trying to sell a bar crowd in a South Dakota town of 50,000 on the merits of Blue Serge by playing it once a night for well over a month. No takers, but at least I got to listen to it once a night.

    Finally, I don’t think I’ll ever spend much time with Meddle, but Echoes is a stellar track, so thank god for individual mp3 sales in case I ever feel the urge to do more with it than stream it off the ‘tube. Related: one of my favorite bands of all time (ALIEN SEX FIEND) did an incredible cover of this track, on the incredible Cleopatra (remember them?) comp “A Saucerful of Pink”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeRsLKdoxBM

    There’s some other great stuff on there, including Helios Creed covering Pigs on the Wing, Nik Turner covering Careful With That Axe, Eugene and Pressurehed storming through Let There Be More Light.

    Thanks again for the post, Princess. It took me back to my earlier days as a budding, young, post-goth industrialist. Good times.

  2. Princess Stomper May 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    OK, cards on the table here: I worked for many years as a music copyright researcher, so I tend to come down on the side of the artist/label against infringement, but I do actually agree with your point about fair use.

    Here’s a good example. Zack was fed up of arguments over whether World of Warcraft or Guild Wars was the better game, so he made a “dance off” using characters from each game, and put ‘You Can’t Touch This’ as the music. The video is cut to the song, so it doesn’t really work without it, but people aren’t watching the video in order to hear the song. It’s not a substitute for buying the record. Google’s software blocked the music on copyright grounds, but Zack actually appealed and won as a fair-use/parody claim. Other people doing the same thing haven’t had the same luck and those type of funny videos usually end up either muted or with some crappy audioswap soundtrack.

    The trouble is that no distinction is made for purpose, whereas it should be simple (given the software available) to be able to use music for that type of innocent purpose and just have the software throw in a purchase link for the song. Better yet, rather than just blocking/muting/substituting it, the software should just add it to the royalties tally so the artist/record company can be paid. Youtube is either providing the service or it’s not – either you can make your own content or you can’t, and it’s just a broadcast medium for major labels and people illegally uploading entire films. I’d argue that Zack’s video is pretty much what Youtube was designed for in the first place.

    In Girl Talk’s case, I had no way of knowing before I downloading it that it was more than just a basic mash-up – the difference between a meme picture and a collage – which makes a very strong argument for hearing something first on Youtube.

    Comparing GASH-era Foetus to sex is a bad idea: Thirlwell spent my first interview with him (as his Clint Ruin character) explaining at great length just how much he enjoys pleasuring women. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to have a very cold bath.

    *some time later*

    Re: Puppy, from what I’ve read, ex-addicts basically have to re-learn how to write music after they’ve cleaned up. Some can do it, some can’t. I’d even go so far as to call The Process my favourite Puppy album, though I haven’t really gelled with subsequent material (which probably isn’t fair as I haven’t listened to the new one yet). How could the crowd not love ‘Blue Serge’? Are they mad? (Maybe not mad enough.)

    Sorry, but that Alien Sex Fiend cover has to die. :p

  3. Princess Stomper May 23, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    (Come to think of it, your blowjob-while-getting-a-blowjob remark reminds me of one of my favourite legends. During the 70s, Chuck Berry was playing a Midwestern college town, and had some “oral relief” backstage while he ate a sandwich. When he got his five-minute call, the onlooker stared in astonishment at the blowjob/sandwich combo, to which Berry famously replied, “Awww, c’mon kid, at least let me finish my sandwich”.

  4. Capitalist Lion Tamer May 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    OK, cards on the table here: I worked for many years as a music copyright researcher, so I tend to come down on the side of the artist/label against infringement, but I do actually agree with your point about fair use.

    Cards on the table: I occasionally write for Techdirt so I tend to come down on the side I came down on in my original comment. :p

    I also agree with your point on Youtube, buy links, ad placement, etc. This should be the first route every time. No one’s uploading a fan video, mashup, etc. in the hopes of making cash off the backs of the original artists. They’re just fans doing what fans do best: proselytizing. The labels should be pleased that someone’s doing all the heavy lifting of uploading their catalogue for them and slap some ads on it and a buy link and start counting those digital dimes.

    With as much as I’ve listened to Thirlwell, it’s probably a bad idea to compare anything you still approach with some level of purity to his music. There’s no sense in pretending I’ve even come close to listening to his entire output, but what I have heard, I’ve liked, even the stuff that rubs me completely the wrong way. Uncompromising. A word that gets tossed around carelessly but one that Thirlwell definitely owns. His remix on Fixed is a highlight on one of the most brutal and uncommercial remix packages ever to hit the mall CD store racks.

    As for how they couldn’t love the Puppy… the rural Midwest is weird place that is always at least a decade behind the rest of the world, not so much because they don’t have TV and radios, but because they embrace stasis. Things were always better in the past and the future seems dangerous and worrying. Better to just stay here, gazing longingly at the rear view mirror. Of course, dropping Skinny Puppy on rural Midwesterners isn’t even attempting to meet them halfway. (I also threw RevCo’s “Beers, Steers and Queers” at them a few times when I was, um, tipsy and combative. Somehow I held onto that DJ job for nearly a half-decade.)

    Also: that Chuck Berry story deserves to be a legend. When faced with an anecdote like that, it’s better to just go with the rock star-isms and let the truth be something those with no joy in their life can sort out.

    Apology accepted. If you don’t care for ASF’s cover of Pink Floyd, perhaps you might be interested in their cover of the Cramps:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-lMSGVK5zI

    Or their cover of Hawkwind:

  5. cirrusminor May 26, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Re Meddle:

    I agree with you that it’s more scattered than most of their albums and sounds more just like a collection of good songs.

    I personally can’t stand One of These Days. It’s not really a song, so I guess that’s why they all got credit for it. It sounds like Waters just wrote the bassline and then Gilmour wrote all the guitar parts and then Mason was like “hey, cause this song sucks anyway, why don’t I just say something murderous in a really creepy voice”.

    Fearless and San Tropez are absolute gems though. Fearless just grooves so well – sounds like Pink Floyd doing a Zeppelin thing – but the singing has that pastoral quality that a lot of their early psychedelic stuff had. And San Tropez is just a nice happy, jazzy song with a wonderful slide guitar solo.

    I used to love Echoes, but now it just seems overlong. The first 6 minutes are gorgeous, but I didn’t think the song warranted being extended another 17. The funky part in the middle is kind of grating and the whale sounds don’t really do anything for me. I do love the build up back to the vocal part though. That guitar riff that Gilmour plays is especially lovely.

  6. cirrusminor May 26, 2012 at 3:37 am

    Princess, it seems like your a big Pink Floyd fan. What do you think of Soundtrack to the Film More?

  7. tomasz. May 27, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    i am slightly astounded that anyone can think “Eat ’em Up Worms Hero” to be “a bit meh”. very minor point, tho. otherwise, thanks for showing love to “Sing to God”.

  8. Princess Stomper May 29, 2012 at 6:22 am

    @ Capitalist Lion Tamer – I’m reading a very interesting book at the moment which suggests that the conflict is not actually between, say, me and Warner Bros but between Youtube and Warner Bros. Levine describes Youtube as a “parasite”, which it effectively is: it doesn’t make original content but depends on user-uploaded content – predominantly copyright music, films and TV – and rarely compensates those who created it.

    The labels-should-be-pleased argument only goes so far, since by uploading without permission you’re effectively taking away the opportunity for labels and artists to determine how and where their work is used, which is a basic moral right. It’s like if someone re-uploaded all the articles from Collapse Board without asking and told us we should be grateful, which I know happens on the internet. I personally wouldn’t get too huffy about it – it would be hypocritical if I did since I have used things without permission before – but equally I knew that I was in the wrong and if e.g. someone whose photo I’d used on a blog piece asked me to remove it I’d do so immediately without fuss. I’m not entitled to use other people’s stuff without permission. In terms of Youtube, the answer would be for labels/publishers/artists and Youtube to have blanket global agreements between them allowing unrestricted use across the platform.

    @ cirrusminor – I love One Of These Days! I also love the More soundtrack, though I’m never sure whether to describe Nile Song as proto-metal or proto-punk.

  9. cirrusminor May 30, 2012 at 1:07 am

    I was at this laser Floyd show once and they had just finished playing Dark Side and The Wall. The DJ then said “ok we got one more for you, this one’s from Meddle” and I was thinking “Fuck Yearh!! What would the it be? Fearless? Echoes?”. And then he said “One of These Days!” and I was like “awwwwwww”.

    Nile Song is closer to proto-metal I think because of the screaming vocals and the lead guitar. Ibiza Bar on the other hand is pure Pink Floyd space rock.

  10. David Sheridon July 23, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Sing to God – THE greatest album ever made.
    Dirty Boy IS a masterpiece.
    Tim Smith IS a genius.
    FACT.
    Peace x

  11. DC August 1, 2012 at 1:45 am

    As a long time Cardiacs obsessive I have to concur w/both Princess & David. It is a flawed album (but, then, truthfully, which of their canon is not?) – I can’t stand the sudden fade outs, for example – but it does mark a cohesion rarely seen across the remaining catalogue. It, like most of their stuff, is an album to be played LOUD.

  12. Toby Clarke August 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Sing to God flawed?
    How disgraceful.
    It is perfection.
    On the whole a lovely review but it doesn’t belong on this blog.

  13. Princess Stomper August 5, 2012 at 1:27 am

    What doesn’t belong on this blog? Cardiacs? Criticism of Cardiacs? I love the band and its members more than I could ever possibly articulate, but they are none of them above any kind of criticism. I have equally criticised some of my favourite acts here, so I certainly think that Cardiacs belong in a post about my favourite albums, nestled among some of my favourite bands, in my favourite place on the internet.

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