Anna-Varney Cantodea crafts albums that are distinct bodies of work. Any given Sopor Aeternus album (excluding compilations…like the one I’m about to list in this entry) has its own internal context. So the whole idea of a Sopor Aeternus playlist is either impossible or, optimistically, experimental.
Consider this my run at the experiement:
Always Within the Hour
At Sunset Through the Fields Aflame (version from TheSpiral Sacrifice)
The Sleeper (version from POETICA: All beauty sleeps)
Do You Know My Name? (version from Ich tote mich…)
Children of the Corn
Baptisma (1989 demo version)
Eldorado (version from POETICA: All beauty sleeps)
Day of the Dead
End of hypothetical “first disc” and the beginning of a “second disc” (Why yes, I am pretentious, I highly recommend it if only for fun 😀 )
To walk behind the Rows
Harvest Moon (Cornflowers part II)
Leeches & Deception
The Conqueror Worm (version from Flowers in Formaldehyde)
Into The Night
Sopor Fratrem Mortis Est
A Strange Thing to Say
Consider This: The True Meaning of Love
Tanz der Grausamkeit (version from Ich tote mich…)
Do You Know My Name? / What Has Happened While We Slept?
Something I’ve always wanted to write about, ever since I experienced the full force of passion that our first love affairs with music inspire in us when we are young, is what distinguishes the album as an artistic medium.
Rather like film and video recording, any collection of recordings or things recorded together is a record. Early experiments in film did not even necessarily regard video recording as even necessarily relatable to narrative storytelling. What we now recognize as modern filmmaking is a hybrid between literature and film, since storytelling is presumed to be the ultimate point. For more on this subject I suggest you google Tania Modleski and cinematic excess. I don’t need to borrow too much from Modleski except that a created structure implicitly reveals its purpose through its design.
Writing and narrative require conceptual coherence since writing is a linguistic medium. Photography and audio recording do not: for something to be photographed or recorded, it need only be visible or audible. A photograph or an audio recording might be artistic or it might serve some other technical or commercial or any other conceivable function. Filmmaking and audio recording are not meant solely for art any more than writing is meant solely for storytelling.
Bringing audio recording to music creates a hybrid in the same way that bringing video recording to literature does. Like any other constructed object, it makes sense to infer intention behind its’ structure. One of my favorite movies is a horror film from 2002 called May. May has long, drawn out non-verbal parts that rely completely on visual storytelling and involve subject matter that is never frankly discussed in the dialogue of the script (this isn’t anything new and I’m sure we can all think of a ton of examples of this; I’m just using May to make a point). For me as a young teenager, the silent, purely visual scenes in May shifted the perspective and character of the film in a way that the script could not: in fact, as an adult it’s obvious that a script is only written to serve a specific function that works equally with the contributions of the actors, director, cinematographer, editor, etc.
The finished product of a photographed script uses the contribution of the writer in concert with every other force at work in front of and behind the camera. The same is true for an album. All art requires a bit of intimacy and exposure on the part of the artist but with films and albums the separation between conception, embodiment and execution is more obvious than something like a novel, which often comes to us resembling nothing more than a naked and singular work in spite of however much editing and re-writing may have happened before publication. Like all rules there are exceptions: my two favorite writers, Victor Hugo and William S. Burroughs, frequently used their writing as a kind of embodiment that would itself “tell” a story rather than use an impersonal and anonymous narrator. This sort of creative device is necessarily more common in modern film and music, however.
I don’t want to make this seem like some kind of big academic look at the album as an art form. I just don’t feel like doing that and it’s more fun to look at specific albums that exemplify the range of what the medium is capable of. I also wanted to nail down some basic ideas that are going to be used later before I get into what I really want to talk about.
Sequential posts to be linked, soon, at the end of this one
The one solo album from Tuomas Holopainen so far. Based on a comic he read as a boy which he described, in a documentary, as his favorite fictional story.
Song one, Glasgow 1877, establishes some key motifs. These include male spoken word narration alternating with female soprano vocals and a reoccurring climbing melody.
Tuomas uses instrumental songs more openly on this album than he has on a lot of prior Nightwish entries. One of my favorites here is Duel & Cloudscapes which introduces an energy-exchange between the drums and the strings that hits the same sweet spot as Ghost River from Imaginaerum. In particular it reminded me of the mixing on Ghost River from Imaginaerum’s instrumental companion. This dynamic between the drums and the strings is also recognizable on Cold Heart Of The Klondike.
My favorite instrumental (with Duel & Cloudscapes being my number two pick) is Goodbye, Papa. To Be Rich has minimal vocals and it’s instrumentation is easily as good as Goodbye, Papa, which it immediately follows.
My two favorite songs on this album overall are The Last Sled and A Lifetime Of Adventure. Both of them give instrumentation and singing equal shares of the foreground and they balance perfectly. A Lifetime Of Adventure pushes the combination further though and is better off for it.
That this album is modeled after a story probably gave Tuomas a specific arc function for each song that imposed more discipline than he normally exercises. This could be another reason why A Lifetime Of Adventure shines so brightly. The expressed sentiment, of a journey being greater than its’ destination, could have come directly from Imaginaerum. But somehow it is more believable than a lot of Imaginaerum’s lyrics. This is does not necessarily mean that Music Inspired by The Life And Times of Scrooge is better than Imaginaerum, but Scrooge definitely sounds more carefully composed.
The repetition of the line “(t)o be rich” within A Lifetime Of Adventure also implies a link to that same song, which only has four lines: “Silent night, silent years / The cold heart haunting still / Sleepless watch of the night / And her face on the moon”. This feels almost Gatsby-ish which caught me off guard. In fact, me not knowing anything about the source material and just extrapolating everything from the lyrics was kind of fun. Especially since my wife saw a cartoon adaption of the comic when she was a kid. Her recollection was fun to compare against.
IX, at the very end of Memoria, outside of creation ❤️
2. Best chocobo theme:
3. Moogle theme:
Good King Mog from XIV! (never actually played it but wifers showed me)
4. Best airship theme:
Looking For Friends from VI! That’s the song you hear on board the Falcon.
(The Hilda Garde music from IX also has a tendency to worm its way into my head. Like, all the time, and once it’s in it stays for awhile)
5. Best character theme:
I feel a lil conflicted there. It would either be Coin Song from VI or J-E-N-O-V-A from VII.
6. Best town theme:
Kids Run Through The City- VI
7. Best overworld theme:
Something from VI. Either Terra or Dark World
8. Best dungeon theme:
Another World Of Beasts from VI.
And I’ve always liked Phantom Forest from VI and Lurking In Darkness from VII. Neither one of those appear exclusively in dungeons but both are used in dungeons occasionally.
I kinda have to mention the Collapsed Express Way from the VII Remake. All the music from Shinra HQ in the remake could also merit honorable mentions.
9. Best battle theme:
Don’t Be Afraid- VIII
10. Best boss battle theme:
The Decisive Battle- VI
11. Best victory theme:
Out of the variations of the traditional I’d go with the version from VI. Out of the different ones, it’s XIII.
12. Best end boss theme:
Dancing Mad- VI
13. Best ending theme:
Credits’ roll from VII
14. Best mini-game theme:
Vamo Alla Flamenco- IX
15. Best in-game arrangement:
Opening – Bombing Mission, from VII. I’ve heard different orchestral versions but they always make it sound like it came from a Batman movie. Which I think is all wrong. The version from the VII Remake works for what it is, but it has a different character from the original.
16. Best piano arrangement:
Ahead On Our Way from the VII piano disc ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
The Main Theme from VII on that album is also exponentially more beautiful than the original
17. Best remastered track:
The Nightmare Begins from the soundtrack remaster for the PC version of FFVII. The most atmospheric version of that song.
18. Best orchestrated track:
Seven Seconds till the End- VIIR
19. Best non-Uematsu track:
Crimson Blitz from Ligthening Returns. That would be Masashi Hamauzu. Born Anew is also really cool (also by Hamauzu, in the first XIII game).
20. Best song from a game you haven’t played:
Final Steps of Faith (Nidhogg’s theme from FFXIV. I still gotta get started on that sooner or later)
21. Best song from a game on first console:
Mmmmm I’ve already covered a lot of VII-
HEY WAIT the title screen music from the PS1 Anthology version of V!!!!
22. Best song from a game you don’t like:
All of the cutscene music from Type-0
23. Song that makes you feel nostalgic:
Voices Drowned By Fireworks- VII
24. Song that makes you feel sad:
Other Side of the Mountain- VII
25. Song that makes you feel pumped:
Fight On!- VII
26. Song that makes you feel relaxed:
Dali Frontier Village- IX
27. Best track from mobile exclusive:
I never played a mobile exclusive unless you count IV: TAY? I played the Ultimate Collection for the PSP but TAY at least started as a mobile exclusive. I enjoyed the music from IV in general but I don’t remember if TAY had any original music? I didn’t finish it either but got to the final dungeon and found out I was pathetically under-leveled and trapped there
This is the long-awaited reinvention we’ve been waiting for and far past time for it.
There have definitely been hints of it before now. What made albums like The High End of Low and The Pale Emperor stand out was a willingness to embrace new ideas. But at last, Marilyn Manson has made a full, decisive step into new musical and atmospheric territory.
One of the strengths of We Are Chaos was beginning to show through on Heaven Upside Down, which exhibited Manson’s strongest and most consistent lyricism since The Golden Age of Grotesque back in 2003. We Are Chaos, though, is possibly more tightly written than anything else Marilyn Manson has done. Nothing sounds as lazily worded as The Gardener, Unkillable Monster or You and Me and The Devil Makes 3. In fact, every set of lyrics rewards attention, which hasn’t happened throughout an entire Marilyn Manson album in over ten years.
The songs I’ve been listening to the most are Solve Coagula and Half-Way & One Step Forward. The latter has this cool, dreamlike, repeating piano riff that gives it an unexpectedly new romantic flavor. It goes into Infinite Darkness, which I am not nearly as inclined to listen to as other tracks. Half-Way & One Step Forward actually sets an atmospheric tone for Infinite Darkness that makes it far more interesting than it is on its own. Infinite Darkness has a similarly brilliant segue into Perfume, which was when I realized how well this all works together.
A key hallmark of a well-composed album is that each song feels like an elaborative step deeper into the body of work. The recordings made in the last decade that pull this off can, for me, almost be counted with one hand (names like Sopor Aeternus, Grimes and Gonjasufi come to mind). An adolescent part of my soul is happy to see Marilyn Manson finding his way back there.
While Solve Coagula and Half-Way & One Step Forward are my two earworm picks (Solve Coagula also hits the new romantic genre echo like Half-Way) every song between them navigates a musical and emotional bridge from one to the other. Sure enough, Solve Coagula sets the stage for Broken Needle, the last song, which connects its lyrical imagery with the first song. Manson hasn’t done something as elaborative, consistent and careful since the Tryptych.
The Leonard Cohen reference was a little random but interesting.
(Originally posted in August, before the release of We Are Chaos)
As if writing text bricks about Anne Rice and Sopor Aeternus wasn’t enough, I’m about to fully confirm myself as goth trash by writing about Marilyn Manson.
The last thirteen years, ever since the release of Eat Me, Drink Me in 2007, have been interesting for Marilyn Manson fans. Most of us were hooked by one of three albums that Manson has named the Triptych: Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals or Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). In fact, I originally thought of this post as a review of Marilyn Manson’s post-Tryptich material, since a lot of us can’t help but wonder when the next big, crazy-ambitious project was coming.
But when people talk about recent Marilyn Manson material, they typically mean the material generated between 2007 and now. One reason why the last thirteen years feel different is that he never seems to integrate the new material into new setlists equally with the nineties material. The vast majority of Marilyn Manson concerts will feature a generous amount of music from the most recent album and a lot from Antichrist Superstar through The Golden Age of Grotesque.
Stuff from 2007 through whatever the prior album is never seemed to make the cut. Almost as if each new album is meant to be the real follow-up to Golden Age and replace the others. I mean, what would a setlist consisting of nothing but new material look and sound like? Absolutely nothing from before 2007? Can the material from the last thirteen years stand on its own, independent of anything older? The insecurity visible in how he has treated his current “new” album as existing alongside the older material with nothing intervening does not inspire confidence. I don’t think it’s impossible, though. In anticipation of the upcoming album We Are Chaos, let’s go through the list!
Any current Marilyn Manson fan probably remembers what the release of Eat Me, Drink Me was like in 2007. The polarized response to it, though, caused some of the album’s more subtle virtues to be overlooked. For example, how well Tim Sköld incorporated the influence of British glam rock from the early seventies. Especially after the years he spent honing the unique industrial sound of KMFDM and the rhythmic, electronica-influenced instrumentation on The Golden Age of Grotesque. Perhaps the memory of Twiggy Remirez never would have allowed the fan base to give him a chance, but no other Marilyn Manson albums sound like the ones Tim Sköld worked on.
The song from this album I listen to the most these days is Are You The Rabbit? Honestly, I’m surprised it was never a single. Especially since it has such a distinct personality that would make it stand out compared to many of the more famous singles (The Dope Show, The Beautiful People, etc). If I Was Your Vampire is also undeniably memorable.
Sadly, Eat Me, Drink Me also has one of Manson’s most grating, mind-numbing mistakes ever (You and Me and the Devil Makes 3).
The High End of Low catches more hate than any other Marilyn Manson album since 2007. Both the lyrics and the vocal delivery are probably the most uninhibited and experimental since the Spooky Kids.
You know how I said You and Me and the Devil Makes 3 is “one of” Marilyn Manson’s biggest mistakes? Unkillable Monster is the biggest, with I Want to Kill You Like They Do In the Movies getting an honorable mention. I Want to Kill You… is saved by some decent instrumentation and creative mixing, but I can’t think of a single redeeming feature of Unkillable Monster.
With those weaknesses out of the way, The High End of Low has some truly different and powerful material. I know this is probably in no way related to what the lyrics are actually talking about, but I listened to WOW frequently around the time I started to come out to people as trans. Four Rusted Horses probably has the best lyrical use of imagery on the whole album. Manson’s use of Americana started with that song as well, which I think has turned out for the best.
Without a doubt, this is my least favorite Marilyn Manson album. There were songs on Eat Me, Drink Me and The High End of Low that were painful to listen to, but those records had enough originality and creative risk-taking to make them memorable. Born Villain was the very first Marilyn Manson record to be just “meh”. As in so many other situations, it is always better to experiment and stumble than to play it safe with blandness.
Still ain’t all bad, though. Overneath The Path of Misery is as good as his best material. No Reflection has a cool back-and-forth between imagery and the cadence of syllables and word placement.
You’re So Vain is also probably my favorite out of the songs from other artists that Manson has covered. (If anyone cares, my other favorite covers are Cat People, Five To One, Working Class Hero and Down In The Park)
The Pale Emperor is my current favorite from Manson’s post-2007 material. I hear these songs in my head probably more often than any other recent album of his. First pick is Slave Only Dreams to be King. It makes me think of the version of Oswald Cobblepot from the show Gotham. (Which is funny, because not long after it was released there was an FMV uploaded to YouTube using the song Killing Strangers and Cobblepot footage)
The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles balances emotional catharsis with camp in a way that really reminds me of the lyrics of Queen. Which meshes beautifully with the ass-kicking rockabilly syncopation of the drumming. Back when I was considering writing the script for a “fan-fic” Batman comic, I would hear this song in my head when thinking about either Batgirl or Red Hood. Having mentioned that comic twice in reference to The Pale Emperor, it’s clear that the album, for me, evokes the feeling of being in a dream-like, paranoid, fantasy city in the mid-twentieth century. Perhaps this stands to reason since Manson wrote and recorded this album with the film composer Tyler Bates.
I also cannot get enough of the cover of the Bowie song Cat People (Putting Out Fire) that Manson did with Shooter Jennings. That’s one of those songs where every version except the one from the Bowie album is great. I mean, the song appeared on Let’s Dance, but that was a version that was recorded specifically for the genre experiment that Let’s Dance explored.
My feelings are mixed on Heaven Upside Down. It takes occasional risks and Tyler Bates continued to be an asset. Familiar sounds were used creatively as well, though: the album swings between Tyler’s familiar blues-rock and some nuances that almost sound like very early Marilyn Manson. Revelation 12 and Je$u$ Cri$i$ both remind me of the Spooky Kids music. Saturnalia sounds like some of the best material from Antichrist Superstar. Tattooed In Reverse is catchy, beat-driven industrial metal, which is a familiar genre for Manson, but still sounds different.
The influence of seventies glam rock on Marilyn Manson is well-documented and Threats of Romance is the best expression of it in a while. It’s exactly what a modern, metal interpretation of Bowie, Roxy Music, etc. should sound like.
Imaginary set list with nothing but material from the last thirteen years:
Are You The Rabbit?
Tattooed In Reverse
Blank And White
Overneath The Path of Misery
Four Rusted Horses
The Devil Beneath My Feet
If I Was Your Vampire
The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles
Threats Of Romance
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
Heart-Shaped Glasses (When The Heart Guides The Hand)
Most of the Bowie material are electronica instrumentals from the late seventies Berlin trilogy with a few exceptions. Son Of Chaos, Sephiroth’s Wake and Of Transformants & Brevity are all covers of FFVII music from ocremix.com.
1. A New Career in a New Town (Bowie, Low)
2. Heart of Anxiety (FFVII)
3. A Small Plot Of Land (Bowie, 1.Outside)
4. Under The Rotting Pizza (FFVII)
5. Joe The Lion (Bowie, “Heroes”)
6. The Oppressed (FFVII)
7. Who…Are You? (FFVII)
8. The Hearts Filthy Lesson (Bowie, 1.Outside)
9. Sense Of Doubt (Bowie, “Heroes”)
10. Flowers Blooming In The Church (FFVII)
11. Son Of Chaos (Shinra Company)
12. Hallo Spaceboy (Bowie, 1.Outside)
13. Warszawa (Bowie, Low)
14. Forested Temple (FFVII)
15. Outside (Bowie, 1.Outside)
16. Words Drowned By Fireworks (FFVII)
17. Weeping Wall (Bowie, Low)
18. Lurking In The Darkness (FFVII)
19. Segue: Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name (Bowie, 1.Outside)
20. Of Transformants & Brevity (The Nightmare Begins)
While I’m significantly late on this it is now time to review Island Of The Dead!
This album was released almost a month ago but, because I’m a purist idiot, I refused to listen to it digitally until I had my hard copy. All of these pictures were taken after letting it sit for three days after it came in the mail. You know, because of the now global pandemic.
I can’t describe how happy this made me when I finally opened it. The happiness over receiving an individually numbered CD copy also brought my attention to other aspects of the presentation and delivery. I don’t know all the specifics of this, but hard copies of Sopor Aeternus albums tend to only be available through the band and record label’s website around the time the album in question is to be released. I read that Sopor Aeternus worked briefly with John A. Rivers who, in the world of goth music, is a fairly big name, having produced albums for the likes of Dead Can Dance, Love And Rockets, Daniel Ash, etc. As far as I know, I don’t think Sopor has ever come any closer than that to approaching major label representation.
In fact, when I search for Apocalyptic Vision Records online, it seems that Sopor Aeternus and The Ensemble Of Shadows constitute the majority of their output. This goes back to early albums like Ich tote mich…, Todeswunsch and the earliest known version of Es reiten die Toten so schnell, which makes me suspect that Anna-Varney Cantodea herself must have some kind of personal involvement with Apocalyptic Vision Records. Maybe I’m way off base, but if they were working with Sopor Aeternus since the very beginning then I think her personal involvement is likely. If the production and release of Sopor Aeternus music is Anna-Varney’s own personal labor of love, then it makes sense that hard-copies of their work would only be made in proportion to purchases if, perhaps, money needs to be saved for studio time, production costs, studio muscians, etc. So little things, the amount of detail put into the physical object itself…reflect a much more personal and deliberate touch. Which is why a hand-written 878 in front of the /1000 warms my heart.
Now for the actual music and lyricism: there isn’t a specific and obvious genre affiliation like there was with the death metal album Death & Flamingos but modern touches are distinctly present. Songs like Poison, DeathHouse, Saturn Rising and Nightbreed have noticeable new-wave and new-romantic influences. This shift in creative direction happens along with the preservation of the personal, memoir-style lyricism from Death & Flamingos. The lyrics here are very direct and have very personal \ conversational word and sentence construction and the vocal delivery has the same rawness as the previous album. Minotour has a conversational delivery similar to Kinder Des Teufels from Death & Flamingos, You Cannot Make Him Love You from Mitternacht and Something Wicked This Way Comes from Songs from the Inverted Womb.
The closing song, Goodbye, is very lyrically streamlined: when you read the lyrics in the booklet it looks like a personal note between two individuals, like something meant for someone to read. When Anna begins singing, though, the cadence and rhythm of her voice is perfectly musical. The same goes for Mourning, The Void, Saturn Rising and Cold. Mourning struck me as a little challenging at first- I actually didn’t listen to this album all at once, as a single body of work, the first time I heard it. Which will definitely effect the impression of each song. Anna-Varney Cantodea makes albums that are whole, distinct bodies of work, meant to be taken in as a whole. Now it feels like one of the most important songs on the album. Not least of all because of the lyrical stream lining mentioned earlier. The use of verbal repetition is different on this album- in fact, I don’t think lyrical repetition is used quite the same way in anything else by Sopor.
On Mourning, repetition is used in a way comparable to the function served by a chorus in an ordinary rock song, but still gives the rest of the more conversational lyrics room to define the overall tone. The longer instrumental sections also provide necessary atmospheric breathing room for the song to work. As a kind of orienting “center” to the album, this generous use of space is very justified.
Saturn Rising, while just as streamlined overall, is more of an equal split between conversational and conventionally rhythmic lyricism. The alternating slow and fast pacing and the use of electric guitar give the song a recognizable alternative-shoegazey feel. In fact, all of the electric guitar usage on this album reminds me of shoegaze.
The lyrics of Burial Ground are more rhythmic than conversational but retains the shoegaze flavor. Poison, DeathHouse and Nightbreed all riff on shoegaze but go a bit further into the land of straight up gothic rock. On that subject, Nightbreed is particularly satisfying. Very cheeky and angry and contains one of my favorite personalized lyrical bitch-slaps on the album:
I’m not your pal, your aunt or your mother!
You asshole, I’m your FRIEND!
But if all that is too much to ask for,
Then, please…don’t pretend.
If you don’t care to have me
In your busy and happy life,
Then don’t you dare
Say that you love me!
Tell that shit
to your wife
I love love love how she spits the words “Go and \ tell that shit \ to your wife” ❤
The new familiarity with direct, memoir-style lyricism and rock experimentation on both this album and the last one seems significant. Death & Flamingos and Island Of The Dead both sound more like direct and personal statements from Anna herself, as opposed to Dead Lovers Sarabande or Songs from the Inverted Womb which employed less literal narrative devices. This, in addition to the release of one album a year for three years so far makes these new works seem like an important moment in her artistic career.
After the release of The Spiral Sacrifice in 2018, Anna did an interview with the German LGBT magazine Seigessaule in which she said that The Spiral Sacrifice will “probably” be her last album. This made sense in that interview, as she described the 2018 album- which was in fact a reimagining of her 1997 album The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller -as a journey through time and a stock-taking. This made The Spiral Sacrifice sound like a grand, finishing statement, to say nothing of the fact that Anna is in her sixties and could hardly be faulted for slowing down.
Not only did Anna release new music in 2019 and 2020, but look at the contrast with the 2018 album. The Spiral Sacrifice is almost luxuriously introspective, poetic and slow-paced. I listen to it often while writing or drawing, as I do with Poetica and Ich Tote Mich. The Spiral Sacrifice was constructed with room for the listener’s mind to occupy the material alongside Anna’s presence. In the last two albums, Anna herself dominates all the space and is singing literally about herself in lyrics that make you hear her as both an artist and a private person. So far from being a final album, The Spiral Sacrifice appears to have marked the beginning of a unique chapter in the life of Sopor Aeternus and The Ensemble Of Shadows.
Back when I was more of a Ween fan, I’d search YouTube for live performances since they seemed to pull those off well. Ween’s lyrics and imagery are typically either surreal or juvenile but they’re great musicians and they have done some very witty genre deconstructions. The early seventies glam rock decon of Captain Fantasy and Beacon Light, the country decon of 12 Golden Country Greats and the prog decon of The Mollusk all come to mind.
And they’ve been known to do some killer live shows. So I was browsing YouTube for Ween concert footage and I stumbled upon a cover version of the song Birthday Boy by someone called Mary Lou Lord.
The original Birthday Boy has the stonerisms turned up to eleven. It starts with a groggy and exasperated voice saying “Jesus Christ…pain…take one!” before some electric guitar strumming kicks in. One of the two Weens (either Dean or Gene) then starts caterwauling as warbly and discordantly as he can, dragging out vowels at the end as his voice cracks to add an extra touch of insanity.
The guitar riff, the subject matter and specific word choices suggest that this is a deconstruction / parody of a country song. The lyrics are deliberately repetitive and simplistic and the crazed vocal delivery clearly is poking fun at the earnestness of a country break-up song. To add to the stoneresque weirdness the song ends with a voicemail containing someone singing the Happy Birthday song. I can actually imagine the original version of Birthday Boy fitting in just fine in an Earthworm Jim game, honestly.
So I find the Mary Lou Lord cover and she plays it completely straight. The riff is slowed way down, almost like grunge, even though the country influence is still noticeable. And I couldn’t believe it- it totally worked. The self-effacing humor of the barebones lyric construction actually seemed to lend it some non-ironic feeling. And I was actually really into it.
But while there was some Mary Lou Lord material on the digital market, that particular cover of Birthday Boy was nowhere to be found. After some googling I found out it was credited to an album called Jabberjaw…Pure Sweet Hell. The album art seemed to even mesh with some of the imagery from the video on YouTube.
So after awhile the inevitable happened and I decided that I needed to have it. Sooo a few months and a few bucks later:
As the track listing tells us, it does in fact have Mary Lou Lord covering Birthday Boy, among many other things.
Go! by Brainiac is a lovely, crunchy little lo-fi piece that makes me feel the same bouncy energy I used to feel while drinking cheap booze to get fucked up as quickly as possible when I was twenty-two or playing 16-bit beat’em up games when I was seven. The Charm by Steel Pole Bathtub and Shine by Laughing Hyenas are precisely the kind of dark, growling 90’s alternative that I love.
Speaking of the kind of transformative re-imagining that Mary Lou Lord pulled off with Birthday Boy, Star Lust by Redd Kross seems to invite something similar. It just has a really strong, sturdy and simple pop-rock structure. It’s simplicity serves it so well that I can easily imagine this song being re-recorded as a stripped down acoustic song or something resembling a 60’s or 70’s singer-songwriter track.
Low and Everclear do covers as well. Low has a stripped down, shoegazey version of I Started A Joke that’s relentlessly melancholy. Not tears in beer so much as tears in vodka. I can imagine it being used in a movie in a scene where someone commits suicide or goes on a depressed killing spree. The Suicide Squad rendition of that song for Harley and the Joker doesn’t even come close to this level of darkness.
Everclear’s cover of How Soon Is Now is believably energetic, but whether or not I enjoy it depends on my current mood. It follows Go! by Brainiac, which works in its favor. But unless I’m listening to the album from beginning to end, I don’t normally wish to hear it the way I wish to hear Go!, Birthday Boy, Star Lust, The Charm, Shine or I Started A Joke. I also can’t stop comparing it to another post-punk Smiths cover, the rendition of This Night Has Opened My Eyes recorded by At The Drive-In, which I much prefer. Everclear’s How Soon Is Now also reminds me a little bit of Filter….but after doing a bit of research, the odds are more in favor of the relationship being the other way around.
Jabberjaw, actually, was the name of a Los Angeles music venue that became famous among the post-punk underground and later, to the dismay of those that cherished its comfortable obscurity, achieved fame among the established grunge and alternative bands. The CD I had hunted down is actually one of a few different anthology albums of the venue’s regulars.
A Vice article with Brian Ray Turcotte, a contemporary of Jabberjaw founders Gary Dent and Michelle Carr, discusses the intentions and circumstances of the self-proclaimed “coffee house” wherein brown-bag alcohol was often welcome. Jabberjaw was founded by music lovers who simply wanted a place to listen to their favorite bands and be around others like themselves.
It’s a nice read (link below) and actually made me a little nostalgic. In my hometown, I have a few friends in local bands and I often went to house parties and bars to hear them perform. I even humiliated myself a few times as a teen by going to open-mic nights to read excerpts of a fantasy novel I started at fourteen and finished at eighteen. Which got me laughed at by very polite people who tried very hard to contain their laughter before losing control. Early experiences of suffering for my art and making connections with others who did so as well helped make me the woman I am now. That, and I don’t think I’ll ever encounter another punk-R&B fusion band with the lyrics “I wanna make love to your asshole.”