The Jazz Butcher - The Wasted Years

by Kevin Orton Rating:7 Release Date:2017-10-20
The Jazz Butcher - The Wasted Years
The Jazz Butcher - The Wasted Years

Listening to The Wasted Years, a box set of The Jazz Butcher’s 80’s output, I was struck by how talented and yet, how willfully all over the place they were. In terms of their humor they had Robyn Hitchcock’s sense of the surreal. Jonathan Richman’s sarcastic innocence. And Captain Beefheart’s perverse delight in provocation and lampoon. Yet, for the warped likes of ‘Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday,’ they could cut a song of wistful beauty like, ‘Girlfriend.’ And if things like, ‘Gloop Jiving’ lacked sincerity, The Jazz Butcher were at least sincere about their silliness. The goofy likes of ‘Bigfoot Motel’ and ‘Love Kittens’ are the band at their quirky best. Other times, the jokes wear thin and you’re left with a musty, acerbic novelty song.

Tracks like ‘Bath of Bacon’ find them parodying the likes of B-52’s. Musical nods and in jokes abound all over these albums. When things rise above self-consciousness, as in the delightfully odd, ‘Girls Who Keep Goldfish’, tracks like, ‘Sex Engine Thing’, amount to little more than indulgence. It all makes for some rather inconsistent and occasionally, frustrating listening.

While The Jazz Butcher could never be accused of taking themselves seriously, I must say, it’s difficult take a lot of this material--- seriously. It’s great to be reminded, “rats have sex in the spring”, but with repeated listens the lyric loses its bite. It’s all a bit of a nod and wink and a poke in the ribs. Which can be grating, after a while. Listening back over this stuff, I’m reminded why The Jazz Butcher never quite reached beyond their peripheral cult status. It’s not that they sound dated. It’s that they often lacked the emotional depth of fellow satirists like the Smiths or Robyn Hitchcock. They rarely take that risk of making that leap. As tongue and cheek as it all is, there’s nothing holding many of these songs down. They just sort of float past one’s grasp like colorful balloons with sarcastic smiley faces painted on them. In addition, there’s a certain amount of self-satisfaction to the playfulness. Songs like ‘Buffalo Shame’ are catchy to be sure. But just as with They Might Be Giants, things can occasionally veer toward the insipid. Meanwhile, a cut like ‘Nothing Special’ remains a terrific Pop song with real smarts.  In addition, the stellar, ‘Angels’ goes to show just how much the band matured and developed over these years. But comes at the expense of a lot of nonsense, really. While there are undeniably some great gems to be found among, The Wasted Years, there’s also a fair amount of bric-a-brac to sift through.

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