The Jazz Butcher
The Jazz Butcher Press Disclaimer - 2001
Published: Disclaimer 2001 Credit: Willie Source:
Album Review: ${}

Music Review - All The Albums

Willie's comments: Before I begin phase two of these Jazz Butcher reviews (i.e., filling in all the gaps in his discography), I need to point out two things. One is that a lot of these albums are recorded under the name the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy, but I'm not going to make the distinction between JBC and JB here, because there really is no measurable difference. Secondly, all of the missing fragments in my collection were provided to me by an insanely kind individual who goes by the name NameDotCom. One day, he e-mailed me out of the blue and asked if I'd like for him to make me copies of a lot of Butch's out-of-print material so that I could review it, and what should arrive in my mailbox this week but nearly the entire Jazz Butcher discography? I've been tirelessly searching for these albums for like five years, so imagine my euphoric delight at finding them all wrapped up in a nice little package, with colorful slim jewel cases. My gratitude toward NameDotCom is boundless, and all he asked in return for fulfilling my lifelong dreamis that I ask all of you JBC fans out there to please purchase these albums in a manner that will result in money actually getting into Butch's pockets, if possible. The label Vinyl Japan has recently started re-releasing some of the old stuff (A Scandal in Bohemia and Distressed Gentlefolk, as of this writing), and it's not only cheaper to buy the records directly from them as opposed to on eBay, but you'll be supporting one of the most talented British songwriters of the past twenty years.

Bath Of Bacon

Why didn't Vinyl Japan start their re-release campaign with the Butcher's first album, In Bath of Bacon, you ask? Well, presumably this is because they wanted to earn a little money from the first batch of re-releases in order to fund the next batch, and frankly, they probably wouldn't make a dime off this one. It's a magnificently stupid album. It opens with the cheesiest lounge-funk song you can imagine, with the Butcher (AKA Pat Fish, though that isn't his real name either) introducing each band member in the most obsequious manner possible: "Martin K. Daly, the Prime Minister of Funk." From there, things desend (or ascend, depending on your point of view) into smart-alecky songs about Bigfoot, food poisoning, zombies, how wonderful kittens are, and parties ("This is partytime, and it's better than a cold bath with someone you dislike").This jovial idiocy is all a put-on, though; it's belied by the thoughtful, subtle "Chinatown," a beautiful song that is carried by Fish's minimalistic flute playing and lyrics that evoke Cold War paranoia. Even if most of the other songs sound as though the lyrics were made up on the spot (the sexy "La Mer" is a song sung entirely in French that purports to be about the sea, but suddenly veers off onto the topic of elephants), there's a hilarious twinkle of intelligence behind it all, and the music is a lo-fi treat that melds Frank Zappa's more accessible indulgences with the twee carnival folk of Split Enz's early work. If you can find it, In Bath of Bacon is slight, immature, and just this side of brilliant. Grade: B+

A Scandal In Bohemia

It should be noted at this point that the Jazz Butcher's music has nothing whatsoever to do with jazz. (To some, this will be a major selling point.)The "butcher" aspect is appropriate, however, since A Scandal in Bohemia finds the band chopping up various elements from rock history, walloping them with a surgical two-by-four, and stitching them back together in mutations that resemble some of the more whimsical creatures from the bad kid's bedroom in Toy Story."Soul Happy Hour," for example, borrows a few lines from "Money (That's What I Want)" and inserts them into an ingratiating doo-wop arrangement, all in the service of a drinking song. "My Desert" is a stirring, anthemic waltz that skewers the pomposity of stirring anthems (think the theme to John Wayne's The Green Berets), while "Caroline Wheeler's Birthday Present" is a drunken, stomping sort of proto-punk mess that inexplicably juxtaposes Alice Cooper and Jim Morrison with rotting fish and sausages. Even if I don't care for "I Need Meat" (which isn't due to the fact that I'm a vegetarian so much as the fact that I don't like rockabilly to begin with, and less so when the song's riff is constructed from the off-kilter opening to "These Boots are Made for Walking"), that's made up for by two of the great lost singles of the eighties: "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)" and "Real Men." The former is an airy, straightforward pop song that has one of the best keyboard lines you'll ever hear, and the latter is a hilarious rant against bullying, beer commercial machismo ("They're stronger than a sheet of metal and they're in the rugby club reserves/Buy the wife a birthday kettle/These are real men getting on my nerves"). This would not have been possible on their previous album, but Fish, guitarist Max Eider, and the new, taut rhythm section of bassist David J. and drummer Owen Jones have miraculously evolved into a polished satirical unit. It's never as off-the-hook silly as Ween or anything, but the Jazz Butcher's droll brand of genre-splicing is every bit as accessibly clever. Check it out. Grade: A

The Gift of Music

This is a slapdash collection of singles and B-sides from the Butcher's first two albums. In anyone else's hands, such a bizarre collection of songs ("Water" is a cousin to Syd Barrett's "Effervescing Elephant," "Drink" is the precocious nephew of the Rat Pack's lounge-swing fetishes,"Jazz Butcher Meets Count Dracula" is the retarded half-brother of "Monster Mash") would give you a headache, but since In Bath of Bacon and A Scandal in Bohemia were cohesive albums only in their bratty lack of a linear style, The Gift of Music fits as perfectly into the Butcher's oeuvre as Tetris blocks. "Southern Mark Smith" has stupidly been reinvented as an annoying, bouncy popster, and the alternate version of "Marnie" withers in comparison to Scandal's rendition, but they're mitigated by the new-and-improved "Zombie Love" and a killer cover of Johnathan Richman's "Roadrunner." Plus, "Jazz Butcher vs. the Prime Minister" has to be the most loony-yet-informed political rock song ever written (Fish threatens to literally consume good ol' Maggie Thatcher). There has never, to my knowledge, been a B-sides collection that didn't suffer a bit in the "substance" department, even if the songwriting was there. Never before, though, has this been turned into a bona fide asset. Grade: B+

Sex And Travel

Two months after the release of The Gift of Music, the Butcher's third proper LP revealed a newly mature band- one who had learned how to temper their goofiness with a regretful sincerity (and who was still savvy enough to dilute the sincerity with goofiness), while still keeping the tunes front and center."Only a Rumour" is a terrific, introspective ballad about a nadir in a romantic relationship, and the mind-blowing Spaghetti Western epic "Walk with the Devil" expertly chronicles its bitter end. Less heavy but still just as subtle are "Down the Drain" (a cute Max Eider nursery rhyme) and "Holiday" (a parody of an uptight, "regular English-speaking gentleman on holiday" which lists his daily itinerary to a breathless, inflexible rhythm). In fact, only the jankly rave-up "Red Pets" is too knowing for its own good. Too short at only eight songs (I listened to the whole thing on the way to the video store and back), Sex and Travel nevertheless documents an important step in the Jazz Butcher's career: the one that lifted him above mere "novelty act" status and marked him as one of the great British zeitgeist photographers of the 1980s. Grade: A-

Bloody Nonsense

You know, the Jazz Butcher might be pushing things a bit by this point. Just 13 months after The Gift of Music (and one month before the release of Distressed Gentlefolk) comes... another compilation! Six of these 14 songs were actually on The Gift of Music! So why bother with this one? Well, if you can't find any of the previous albums (and somehow magically come across this one), all of these songs are terrific, from the infectious "President Reagan's Birthday Present" to the invigoratingly sloppy "Caroline Wheeler's Birthday Present." Also, if you're a Butcher completist, five of these songs hadn't yet seen proper release on an LP, and confound it, they're essential: "Death Dentist" is a nifty ripoff of the Peter Gunn theme, "The Devil is My Friend" is a fun stab at Hank Williams, etc. If neither of those two ifs above apply to you, though, leave this one be, because it's just mind-bogglingly redundant! Resist the urge to pick up everything that has the words "Jazz Butcher" on it just because you were unlucky enough not to have been buying records in an age where there was a glut of wonderful Jazz Butcher product. It's a trick.Grade: C+

Distressed Gentlefolk

While this album is not as consistently enjoyable as Fishcotheque or A Scandal in Bohemia, it's still a lot of fun. Many of the songs are written in a hotel-lounge-bar-blues fashion, which effectively plays against the cynicism of songs like “Domestic Animal” and “Who Loves You Now?” And the songs that rock do so with a very particular, British wit: “Big Bad Thing” is rendered hilarious by its “Vut you vant?” shouts, while “Hungarian Love Song” is an amusing cannibalism number in the same vein as that Monty Python sketch where the sailors all insist that they be the ones eaten in case of trouble. Ballads “The New World” and “Angels” really go nowhere, however, and bland sideman Eider shouldn't be allowed to sing, but the winners still outnumber the losers. Grade: B

Big Questions Also known as The Gift of Music volume 2, Big Questions marks the Butcher's return to compilations that are actually worth picking up, instead of redundant cash-ins. With the exceptions of "Death Dentist" (which appeared on Bloody Nonsense) and an interminable, seven-minute version of "The Human Jungle" (from some versions of Sex and Travel), all of these songs were recorded and released in the year following Distressed Gentlefolk on various EPs. With snarky lyrical references to Brian Eno, the Soft Boys, and Peter Lorre (who gets his own infectiously stupid theme song), the better part of the album consists of intimate acoustic/synth songs performed solely by Fish and Eider. "Mersey," for example, is so despairing that it hardly matters that Fish is backed by a chintzy keyboard straight out of the song from An American Tail. From there, "Thing" is a brief snippet of heavily reverbed blues, "Rebecca Wants Her Bike Back" is another great buzzsaw rocker, "City of Night" is one of those perfect, ominous accordion numbers whose ethnic influences I can never put my finger on (these things always sound French-Italian-Greek to my ear), and the list goes on and on. These simple little songs prove that even a record full of what sound like the products of a one-night jam session can be emotional, funny, catchy, and all-around wonderful in the hands of the Jazz Butcher. Grade: B+

Fishcotheque After Gentlefolk, the Butcher's band parted ways with him, and he hooked up with a bunch of new musicians, who took the band in a more rocking, less divergent direction.With shimmering guitars reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins (in tone only), a plain British singing voice reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock, and hilariously smart/smarmy lyrics reminiscent of everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to Neil Finn, The Jazz Butcher, on this album, crafts some of the best dang rock songs I've ever heard. On Fishcotheque, there's a brilliant nonsense rap about chickens (sample lyric: "Chicken on holiday/ Chicken in jail/ You wake up in the morning, there's chicken in the mail"), a seductive pop song about divorce ("Get It Wrong"), and nine other slices of genius. This is actually a good place to start, if you can find it. Grade: A+

Big Planet\, Scarey Planet

This album leans more toward noisy rock than the good-natured pop of Fishcotheque, but that's not a bad thing. Also spicing things up are odd samples from old films and some of the Butcher's most pointed non-sequitur lyrics (most evident on "Nightmare Being": "I'm invisible, like salmonella"). "Line of Death" is a Middle Eastern rave-up that incorporates elements from Deliverance and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, while "Do the Bubonic Plague" is a funky ode to the titular disease. Catchiness a'plenty! Grade: A+

Cult Of The Basement

Cult of the Basement isn't quite as consistent as the previous two offerings. I say that only because of the interminable "Turtle Bait," which the Butcher himself admitted that everyone hates. Apart from that, though, this album is a bit more ballad-centric than, say, Big Planet Scarey Planet, but "Sister Death" and "Pineapple Tuesday" are two of the best ballads in musical history. "The Basement" is a wonderful surf-rock instrumental, and "Mr. Odd" is pure pop ecstasy (and there's a "Space Oddity" reference, too!). And "My Zeppelin" is just weirdness that involves Steffi Graf for no particular reason. Cult of the Basement is a strange little cruller, but a rewarding one. Grade: A-

Condition Blue

Apparently, this is an album that was made after a lot of personal pain and anguish for Butch. That might explain the lack of effort that was apparently put into the album- there are only nine songs, and one of them ("Monkeyface") is practically the exact same song as "The Basement" from the previous album, only with different samples layered overtop of it. However, the eight new songs are mostly pretty good (if overlong). They're mostly poppy tunes of the sort found on Fishcotheque, only with a slightly darker edge to songs like "Honey" and "Racheland." It's not my favorite album, but as the Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock pointed out, "Mediocre Butcher beats the prime cuts of mere mortals anyday." Grade: B+

Waiting For The Love Bus

All you need to know about this album is that it has a song about penguins on it. Sure, there's all sorts of tunefulness and melodicism and hookery and those good things, but the most important thing about Love Bus is that it has Butch chanting dolefully, "We are penguins/ We are penguins/ We are flightless/ We are standing/ On our eggs." It makes me smile. Grade: A

Rotten Soul

After a lengthy hiatus, Butch reunited with estranged sideman Max Eider and put out this album on the Vinyl Japan label. As Eider writes in his witty liner notes, "We have nothing but good to say of Vinyl Japan, but I'm sure they won't mind my pointing out that [this album has] been made on the cheap." This is a bit of an understatement. Rotten Soul features the cheapest drum machine this side of Trio and a total lack of production (one example: the opening verse of Eider's "The One You Adore" is marred by the piercing line noise from a guitar whose part hasn't started yet). This has the unfortunate effect of making the subdued songs which make up a large portion of Rotten Soul sound as though they were performed by an above-average karaoke band. Sometimes Butch manages to transcend his budgetary limitations: the buff "Tough Priest" transcends the lo-fi nature of the proceedings by means of a killer hook and the Butcher's use of an ominous Irish accent. "Mr. Siberia" works with the cheapness of the sounds to produce a terrific slice of slow funk, but those are the only two songs that measure up to the standard set by Fishcotheque and Big Planet Scarey Planet. Some songs sound like mere demos ("Big Cats"), and some just sound sad (the ill-advised country ballad "Sleepwalking"). Mr. Eider himself is another problem. His leisurely songwriting style has never really meshed with the Butcher's aggressiveness, and while his tunes are a vast improvement on the Jimmy Buffett margarita-rock formula, they pale in comparison to Butch's. (Parrotheads would do well to seek out Eider's well-meaning solo album The Best Kisser in the World, however.) There's simply not enough joy to be had here, I'm afraid. It's a disappointing comeback. Grade: C

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