At once quirky and sobering, from lounge music and drinking songs to feedback-laced explosions and textured ballads, the Butcher defied categorization ever since the quietly acclaimed and long-forgotten "A Scandal In Bohemia" surfaced all too briefly in the early 1980s. A batch of gems were to follow - "Distressed Gentlefolk", "Fishcotheque", "Big Planet, Scarey Planet" - a vast discography that continued without due praise well into the 1990s. In '92 came the last US tour and "Condition Blue," followed a year later by the ethereal, reverb-rich "Waiting For The Love Bus". Our most recent treat, now two years old, was "Illuminate", which like the others received minimal exposure on play-lists heavy with big-label attitude rock.
Now, Mr. Fish himself has taken the trouble to compile "Draining The Glass 1982 - 86", a brave retrospective culled from his five year span with the UK's Glass Records, a relationship that gave us five full-length albums in the early and mid '80s. Some of this stuff has never been available in the compact disc format, and/or is impossible to find, and it's something like religion to hear the brilliant capriciousness of ' Southern Mark Smith ' and ' Just Like Betty Page ' in digital clarity (from the analog, of course) for the first time.
The Butcher's essence, at least in these showcased earlier days, is a punky, lighthearted recklessness kept in check by lush, cushiony underpinnings, of which dirty-pop classics ' Girlfriend ' and ' Big Saturday ' are irresistible examples. And that's David J. ., the same of Bauhaus and Love And Rockets fame, playing and singing backup. Never one to take himself too seriously, titles like ' Girls Who Keep Goldfish ' and ' Jazz Butcher -v- Count Dracula ' weave a deceptive whimsy through the work of a true master craftsman. 'Goldfish are silent', sings Pat, 'Under the water. But girls who keep goldfish...are sometimes quite loud.' On ' Bigfoot Motel ,' Fish takes a jab at campy Americana. Like the Clash before him, he was often obsessed not with his native England, but with the colors and moods of America.
Don't be distracted by any lyrical lightheartedness. There's some mighty graceful musicianship under the superficial silliness - an acoustic irony wavering somewhere between beauty and hilarity, and often not afraid to commit fully either way. (To go off-disc for a moment, compare the inebriated fun of ' D.R.I.N.K. ' with the sad, sparkling power of ' The Good Ones .')
The Butcher can swing from all-out punk to a dewy ballad without so much as a smirk. Such versatility, without the self-indulgence we see so often, is maybe the true crux of his legacy.
For now, the Jazz Butcher sits on the verge of pop oblivion, much the way a band starring Reed, Cale, Morrison, and Tucker did so many years ago. And we all know what happened to them. Time will tell, but surely this disc is a step in the right direction.
copyright © Patrick Smith. PO Box 380406 Cambridge MA 02238
(used with author's permission)