Music

The Jazz Butcher's Dance with Creation Records Gathered on 'The Violent Years' Box

Photo courtesy of Fire Records

It can get loud, it can get weird and even downright sad. It all adds up to lovely mini-oeuvre.

The Violent Years
The Jazz Butcher

Fire

9 March 2018

Near the end of the 1980s, Pat Fish (the Jazz Butcher) had a quartet of fine albums and no band. He also suddenly found himself without a label. Despite some hastily assembled tours and a version of the group that was less than full, Fish soon became the object of the Creation label's desire. There was an American record company knocking too. With lots of cash. The yank deal never materialized, but Creation lingered in the doorway, ultimately providing Fish shelter from the storm.

Armed with a new gang of conspirators, the Jazz Butcher embarked on the first of four albums (all collected in this new box), Fishcoteque (1988). Former guitar tech Kizzy O' Callaghan became the singer's primary collaborator with two Daves (Goulding and Morgan, both of the Weather Prophets) filling out the drum 'n' bass chairs nicely. Saxophonist Alex Green squonks and honks nicely throughout.

There's nothing tentative about those sessions, despite some early fussing with the lineup and the outfit's embryonic standing. The rhythm section cracks and whacks with mind-shattering accuracy throughout, with soulful vocal inflections and funky guitar figures carrying material such as "Out of Touch" and "Chickentown" across the victory line.

The latter tune suggests that the Jazz Butcher's music could have been used to raze disused apartment complexes from Manchester to Chicago just by plugging in and giving us a good ol' D-A-E. But it's not just about the power, about being loud. There's also some ace writing: "Next Move Sideways" and "Get It Wrong" and "Looking For Lot 49", one tune which does not employ the two Daves rhythm section but instead uses Dave Sulyeman on bass and Blair MacDonald on drums. It cooks with rarified intensity. If there's a down moment here, it's the confusing Blondie-cum-Clash-cum-rap number "The Best Way". It becomes a muddle faster than a Public Image Limited B-side. Though, even in that, it retains some charm.

As good as that record was, the following year's Big Planet, Scarey Planet is more confident, sometimes angrier and arguably one of the heaviest records never associated with heavy music at all. "Line of Death", "Burglar of Love", and "New Invention" aren't entirely out of tune with Bowie's sonic assaults as a member of Tin Machine. Still, there's plenty of melodicism ("Hysteria"), the beautifully stomping psych and soul exploration, "Bicycle Kid" and "Bad Dream Lover".

From there, the set takes a weird turn. Having been forced to leave the band due to health concerns temporarily, O' Callaghan was absent until sessions for 1990's Cult of the Basement began. Having undergone surgery for a brain tumor, the guitarist's health never returned to a normal state, and he was only able to play on one song, "Excellent". The rest of the record is awash in all manners of weirdness, inspired by a series of records such as Big Star's Third, Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy and Skip Spence's Oar. If ever there had been high commercial hopes for Fish and friends, they were pretty well demolished by this one.

Sampling, loud, boomy drums and lyrics that are scattered across sonic landscapes like lysergic bread crumbs dominate. It's not that there isn't stuff to recommend ("Turtle Bait" smokes with aplomb; "The Onion Field" is creepy and cool) it's that the turmoil and weirdness of the times reveal themselves in the notes and becoming witness to all that is not for the faint of heart. If it's not the most palatable moment in the oeuvre, it's arguably the most intriguing and one that will haunt you from first listen to four hundredths.

By the time touring had concluded for Cult, Fish once again found himself on his own. There was no band to band together, and all manner of personal strife conspired against his spirits, including, no doubt, the 1990 death of O' Callaghan. Still, the singer pulled himself together and made an idiosyncratic breakup record with various and sundry friends from across the years.

If Cult of the Basement was the sound of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band shopping in a supermarket filled with hallucinogenic treats, Condition Blue is perhaps the most straightforward and radio-ready of the lot here. The pain behind "Girls Say Yes" is palpable, haunting guitar figures tugging at our heartstrings as does our vocalist's lovely, first-rate performance. Any stray weirdness left over from previous affairs has been tidily harnessed ("Our Friends the Filth"), and when the group throws caution to the wind ("She's a Yo-Yo") it does so blazingly, unapologetically.

"She's a Yo-Yo" isn't the final statement on this set, but it feels like it should be as it's a wild, wonderful snapshot of an artist and his friends who'd fought tremendous odds. There's pain, yes, but there's deep, deep reward too.

This would be the last we'd hear from the Jazz Butcher just then. Two years down the road, a new album and a new name, the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy, would take us on another daring turn.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.