If there’s one bad thing I can say about the Internet, it’s that it seems to have eliminated the curious joy of shopping a record store in a new town for the rare appearance of a vinyl import of that Jazz Butcher single. If there’s one good thing I can say is that now you can own whichever Jazz Butcher album you want, as long as you’re willing to put down the cash.
But if you’re new to the Jazz Butcher and unwilling to pay for that rare first pressing of Fishcotheque, Draining The Glass is a good place to start. This anthology collects tracks from the Jazz Butchers’ earlier incarnation, which in retrospective features the clever arrangements of ’80s Britpop acts like the Smiths with the psychedelic dark humor of Robyn Hitchcock. Still, the band was its own complex beast, with Pat Fish (aka the Jazz Butcher) and his strong croon easily recognizable features.
The twenty tracks here highlight the range the band possessed, from the spiky slash of “Marnie” to the Tin Pan Alley-sounding “D.R.I.N.K.”. The jazzier moments are clearly audible in the sensible and sardonical “Partytime” (“This is party time / and it’s good to drink for free when you haven’t any money / This is party time / and it’s better than a cold bath with someone you dislike”), or the tiki-twilight tones of “The Human Jungle.” The darker moments come in the form of the thrumming “Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present,” apparently made from the skin of dead Jim Morrisons. In between we get moments of genuine British pop, like “Big Saturday,” with its chiming guitar line or the reverberation of “Girlfriend.” And there are songs like “President Reagan’s Birthday Present,” with a slow insinuating build-up and a hypnotic “the Russians shot my rocket down” chorus.
Perhaps that’s the reason that the Jazz Butcher seems to be largely neglected by most, and largely appreciated by a small but fervent fan base. The all-over-the-place nature of the music on here is somewhat unsettling at first (later output was a bit more musically consistent, if just as twisted) but the style is clearly unique to the Jazz Butcher. Together with excellent! (which contains latter-day material), it’s a virtual roadmap of a long-time favorite.