5 fundamentally flawed albums you need to own
3. 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.
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.
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.
‘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.