The Jazz Butcher - The Violent Years

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2018-02-09
The Jazz Butcher - The Violent Years
The Jazz Butcher - The Violent Years

This is great idiosyncratic rock music.

For the novice, the music of The Jazz Butcher is, perhaps, similar to Robyn Hitchcock, The Woodentops, Aztec Camera, Biff Bang Pow!, and Sir Ray Davies, circa Misfits and his more recent (and brilliant) album Working Man’s Café.

Now, this four-disc Violent Years box contains Fishcotheque, Big Planet Scarey Planet, Cult of the Basement, and Condition Blue. This is the start of their Creation record label period. Pat Fish, Mr. Jazz Butcher, left Glass Records; and his first mate butcher, Max Eider, jumped ship for a solo career. 

The first record, Fishcotheque, actually received an American release as it was licensed through the sadly short-lived Relativity label. Pat Fish said this album was “so SMOOTH and tidy.” That may be true, but it does present the various aspects of the band’s music. There are immaculate pop songs, songs that range from the soulful “Let’s Get It Wrong,” the punchy (and way too hummable) “Living in a Village,” the beautiful “Swell,” the oddball dancefloor funky “Chickentown” (my least favorite song), the touching “Susie,” and the rocking “Looking for Lot 49.”

Sure, the music is all over the musical staff, with or without a treble clef; but all the tunes are so finely crafted that, with patience, they slowly reveal their narcotic nuances.

Well, the next record, Big Planet Scarey Planet, certainly can’t be accused of being “tidy.” This one has an urgently huge guitar sound. “New Dimension” actually erupts. Then “Line of Death” erupts even more and spills its lava that burbles with spiced Eastern flavor. This rivals The Talking Heads for some sort of world funk award. Things slow for the absolutely lovely “Hysteria.” Ironically, the oddball dancefloor funk of “Do the Bubonic Plague” is, perhaps, my favorite song on the record.

Irony and dark humor pervade these grooves.

Yeah, and try not to hum “Bicycle Kid” after a few plays.

A favorite literary work is the play Our Town where Emily comes back from the dead and asks the question, “Do any humans ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute.”

Well, that’s all very fine and very literary. But I just like buying record albums. And I remember finding Kevin Ayers’ first album Joy of a Toy on the original Harvest label in a Wax Museum record shop in Minneapolis. Even then, this was a rare record that required a bid in the back pages of Goldmine, the bible of used wax before the internet took its place at the altar.

I was in record buyers’ heaven.

But then, one Friday night, I just bought The Jazz Butcher’s Fishcotheque simply because I liked the cover. It was nothing special at the time. It was just another album.

But all has changed. That’s because everything is available. But truly, these Jazz Butcher records, in their own way, have now become the cherished gold of the past, a past I never really appreciated at the time. Heck, I was just buying a record on a Friday night. And there’s nothing literary about that.

So now these Jazz Butcher albums have become resurrected bones from the rock ‘n’ roll graveyard. And, again, in their own way, they are as great as that Kevin Ayers album (long since neglected from the best seller racks) that I was so excited to find for a couple of bucks. I suppose it’s all sort of ironic: The new stuff is never loved until it becomes the rare old stuff, and it only becomes the rare old stuff because it stiffed in the shops when it was originally released. I guess our Emily from Our Town still has a valid point to make.

And unfortunately, the patience and attention which allowed many listeners to enjoy the fruits of the music that rewarded our patience and attention in the 1970’s was, by the time Cult of the Basement’s release in 1990, simply (to quote Pink Floyd) “on the run.” That’s a shame because this album’s deep grooves contain the vibrations of a universe or two to explore. Pat Fish has described the record as “commercial suicide.” Well, of course, but that doesn’t subtract any points from the wonderful songs on the record. “She’s on Drugs” is as great a single as anything Robyn Hitchcock failed to chart. “Pineapple Tuesday” reveals the Butcher’s affection for Lou Reed. “My Zeppelin,” with its faux country stylings, is an ode to the spirit of The Bonzo Dog Band. And then there is “Daycare Nation.” This is an absolutely lovely song that is pure Jazz Butcher. There’s also a weird boho tango vibe that runs with bits of incidental music throughout the record.

At times, this album is great pop music. At other times, it rocks with incendiary passion. But really, with the final moments of “Panic in the Room,” it elevates the musical discourse into artistic expression. To almost quote Bob Dylan, this song has “blood on” its “tracks.” This is intense stuff that is light years away from the “SMOOTH and tidy” Fishcotheque.

And then there was Condition Blue. This is an expansive record that takes its own sweet time. Several of the songs exceed the seven-minute mark. It’s almost folk. It’s almost rock. There are jazzy bits, and there are gospel choir backing vocals. It almost manages yet another tango dance step. “Girls Say Yes” is sublime folk rock. It recalls the sound of Al Stewart, who despite a flirt or two with commercial radio, is the master of intelligent and melodic songs. “She’s a Yo-Yo” is pure pop with a pretty great sonic guitar sound. This record burns with simmering take it or leave it intensity. “Still and All” has an abstract meandering beauty that matches the work of (the great) Roy Harper. And, of course, the Butcher “had a thing about Shirley MacLaine” since he was “so high.” This is just a really classy album.

So yeah, this box set simply reminds me that there was great stuff I grabbed from the racks back then, which I took for granted because it wasn’t the stuff I would have loved to have grabbed from the racks really, really way back whenever. But it’s also an alarm clock warning about all the great stuff which is available right now, the stuff that won’t, sadly, be appreciated until it’s wrapped up in a nice box with an essay, or some review, that states the axiomatic: This is simply, in its own weird Jazz Butcher way, great rock ‘n’ roll music.

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