The Wasted Years
November 01, 2017
The Wasted Years
Featuring ‘Bath Of Bacon’, ‘A Scandal In Bohemia’, ‘Sex And Travel’ and ‘Distressed Gentlefolk’.
Between 1983 and 1986, the Jazz Butcher were responsible for four albums' worth of confounding pop music, and The Wasted Years collects them all. Starting off as a solo vehicle for the offbeat musings of Pat Fish, with the addition of ace guitarist Max Eider and more friends (including David J. of Bauhaus), they grew into something interesting and strange. 1983's Bath of Bacon was the result of Fish's experiments with tape deck recording and it has lo-fi charm. Fish sounds like he's trying to figure out what the Jazz Butcher are exactly -- a wacky jazz band, a goofy pop group, or a cabaret experience -- while delivering a handful of wonderful songs, especially "Partytime," which features some skilled fretwork from Eider. By 1984's Scandal in Bohemia, the group had solidified and moved to a real studio to work with producer John Rivers. Not surprisingly, the sound is bigger and some of the weird edges are sawed down. In exchange for that, Fish turns in a bracingly hooky set of songs that the bands deliver with panache. Kicking off with "Just Like a Southern Mark Smith," which sounds like an actual radio hit, they then take a left turn into some tropical weirdness ("Real Men"), bebop rockabilly ("I Need Meat"), what sounds like a song from a European stage musical ("Marnie"), and acoustic children's folk ("Mind Like a Playgroup"). It's still a scattershot approach to making an album style-wise, but it sounds great thanks to the band's deft handling of the material and Fish's new level of craft and confidence. Their next album, 1985's Sex and Travel, came together in a week's time, and as a result, is the most focused album of their early days. The songs sound big and bright with huge drums, and the guitars have a widescreen jangle that fills the mix with warmth. "Big Saturday" is their poppiest moment yet, "Red Pets" works up an impressive head of steam, "Holiday" is a lovely oddball ballad complete with typewriter sounds, and the rest is delightfully fun, if a bit brief. It definitely showed the band becoming more assured and maybe even narrowing their focus a little in favor of a less wacky approach. 1986's Distressed Gentlefolk was the result. Their aim was to make the "Greatest Album Ever," and while they don't quite pull that off, it is their greatest album yet. It's a mix of big bad rockers ("Big Bad World"), country-rock road songs ("Falling in Love"), late-night jazz, and loads of their usual happy weirdness played with brio and sung by Fish like he's the cat who just caught the mouse. Add in a couple truly heartbreaking ballads -- "Still in the Kitchen" and "Angels" -- that show a surprising amount of emotional depth and it's a done deal. Fish went on to record more albums as the Jazz Butcher, but this is where it all began, and The Wasted Years is a fine collection of works by an overlooked and sometimes underestimated band.