Chapter Thirteen:
The Good, the Bad, and the Really Pretty Ugly: Graded on a Curve

The Good

 

Disaster in the Pasture: Cows, Daddy Has a Tail

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the pasture, Amphetamine Reptile Records has reissued Minneapolis noise legends Cows’ immortal second LP, 1989’s Daddy Has a Tail! Pressed on piss yellow vinyl, no less, and with a download card! Daddy Has a Tail! Includes many of Cows’ most repulsive and annoying tunes, including “Chow,” which Amphetamine Reptile inexplicably omitted from its combined reissue of the band’s second and third LPs, Old Gold 1989-1991.

Shannon Selberg will always get my vote as the best front men in rock history, having perfected what I call “the Comedy of Terror.” With his fake tattoos, drawn on handlebar mustache, crushed cowboy hat, and truly bizarre stage outfits (check out the YouTube video for “Organized Meat” for proof), Selberg was a comedian and showman who, with that psychotic glint in his eyes and his discomfiting habit of staring the audience down, made you think that maybe this guy wasn’t all shits and giggles, but a bona fide lunatic.

Who else would wear a wig and mousetraps on his ears? And those were minor fashion accoutrements. When he really dressed up, things got truly scary. And have I mentioned he played a mean bugle, or sometimes a bugle (always battered) and trombone at the same time? It’s all there in “Organized Meat.”

Amphetamine Reptile Records is giving you a second chance to become a member of the exclusive Cows fraternity. With its 11 raucous and degenerate tracks, Daddy Has a Tail! may not be Cows’ best release (I lean toward the following year’s Effete and Impudent Snobs), it is their noisiest and most chaotic LP, with guitarist Thor Eisentrager, bassist Kevin Rutmanis, and drummer Tony Oliveri going out of their way to produce a veritable caterwaul of epic and intimidating dimensions. This is post-hardcore at its gnarliest, and a guaranteed room clearer; in short, it’s damn brilliant.

The fun begins with a cover of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over,” just entitled “Shaking” here. It opens with a monstrous bass riff followed by Eisentrager’s earthquake guitar, and it pounds away at you as Selberg gleefully inverts the sexual act by singing about his girl fucking him in the ass. Has there ever been an opening line as wonderfully perverted as, “Yo girl, I love it when you make my asshole bleed”? “I’m shaking from your big bone,” he sings, “I’ll shake it in my colon/I’ll shake it in my backdoor/I’m shaking all over.”

It’s one of the coolest noise tunes ever, what with its unrelenting din, and the wildest thing is that it’s probably the most accessible song on the LP, with the exception of follow-up “Camouflage Monkey,” a hyperactive hardcore throwback that boasts one fantastic guitar riff and some off-color lyrics by Selberg, who sings, “Shoot the commies/Burn the chinks/He knows where to stick his dick.” No, I have no idea what he’s talking about either, except that the dinosaurs are gone and Selberg “don’t give a fuck.”

“Part My Konk” is a dragging and monolithic drone on which the drum and bass pound relentlessly away while the guitar keeps up a nonstop flurry of barbed-wire sharp notes. It speeds up briefly in the middle, Eisentrager goes wild, and Selberg pleads with his girl to come back to him in Eastern Tennessee, “Now now now now now now now now now now.”

“Bum in the Alley” is a more complex animal, with a hardcore opening featuring some cool cowbell and the band repeating “Bum in the alley,” before the whole thing stops and Cows go into a midtempo interlude in which Selberg alerts you to the fact that said bum is out to rape your sister. The fast-slow sequence is then repeated, with the slow section ending with Selberg shouting, “Heeey, Heeeeeey, Ayeeeee!”, followed by more psychotically fast thrash and burn.

“Chow” opens with some super-fuzz guitar and batters its way into your earholes, what with Eisentrager’s alternately sinuous and shredding guitar and Selberg singing, “Chow, chow, chow!” It could be a song sung from the perspective of a Native American or it could be nothing of the sort, but I love it when Selberg sings, “I’ve had a belly full of the lead you call love/You stabbed me in the back/Then you cut my precious sack/Chow!” “By the Throat” is a pounding and unrelenting midtempo number about a guy who “popped out feet first” at birth, “a pink and ugly bastard” so pink and ugly his mother’s breast “dried up in horror and revolt.” The poor loser goes on until “life snuck up behind him/It reached right out and grabbed him by the throat/Grabbed him by the throat.”

It’s a cheery little ditty with an unhappy ending, just like “I Miss Her Beer,” a song sung by a broken-hearted guy who treated his girl like shit and now laments his lost suds. It opens with some great drum pummel and roars along like a trucker on crank, and I love the way Selberg sings, “Ooh hoo hoo/Ooh hoo hoo/I miss her beer!” And Eisentrager’s brief guitar solos are things of beauty and a joy forever. “Sugar” is uncompromising mayhem, with the band freaking out and Selberg singing in a distorted voice, “I saw my picture on a carton of milk/And I laughed and thought I’m not lost/I’m just sick.” This is free-form noise pushed to the limit, a song on the verge of falling apart but never does, and you have to admire the band’s dedication to recapturing the sound of the creation of the universe. That or hold your ears, depending on your tolerance for this kind of thing.

“Chasin’ Darla” takes us back to the time when giant dinosaurs trod the earth, with Rutmanis’ bass stomping out the beat while Eisentrager plays in big resounding circles and Oliveri makes healthy use of the cowbell. As for Selberg, he stutters his way through the tune, falling silent on occasion to let Eisentrager shred and shred and shred. Finally, “Sticky and Sweet” is two guys in a horse suit, the first guy keeping a slow gait while the other guy goes at it like the Kentucky Derby. It opens with Selberg singing in a slow nursery rhyme manner, clearly enunciating his words until he sings, “Sticky and sweeeeet!”, at which point the band kicks into discordant overdrive. The whole shebang then repeats itself, and if I’m not wild about the slow section the second half is monstrously brilliant, with Selberg shrieking and screaming in mock agony as the song comes to a close.

What do Cows teach us? I believe they produced sacred music for a religion yet to be founded, the one Yeats was referring to in “The Second Coming” where he writes, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.” “Twenty centuries of stony sleep” have at last begotten us a musical apocalypse that is, if you’re a skeptic and cynic to boot like I am, hilarious, or, if you’re not, terrifying. The look in Shannon Selberg’s eyes said it all; Cows is the joke that will destroy you, the punch line that will leave you looking for your broken teeth on the ground. I’m talking out my ass, mind. Cows were not the avatars of a new religion, but the menacing Selberg certainly evoked, once again in Yeats’ words, “a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” Check them out and then run, because while they’re long gone, they could come back.

 

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

 

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