Thursday, 4 July 2013

Foetus - Hide (2010)

The measure of a genuinely classic album - pretending for a moment that it's possible to be make objective judgements about such things - is that it sounds like the single greatest album ever recorded during  listening, and only as it ends will you recall having regarded other records with similar fervour. Foetus is distinguished for me by having churned out a good few albums which figure in this category, and Jim Thirlwell is one of those rare artists who seemingly sets out to improve upon earlier works rather than simply repeating former glories. He's been doing it since Deaf from way back whenever the hell that was, each one better than the last. Admittedly there was a bit of a fallow period lasting roughly from Thaw to Flow - great albums all, but a bit too much of that generic noise rock landfill, gargling crude oil whilst pretending to be a guy from Tennessee who's just married his own mother. It sounded great on Hole and Nail, but by 1988, that one string of the bow was wearing a bit thin, not least for having been photocopied by a thousand growling clowns, and if you don't believe me just dig out Ministry's Industrial Rock is Like Really Awesome album and try listening to it now without smirking.

Thankfully, Thirlwell seemed to tire quite quickly of that sort of unreconstructed cobblers, and so from Flow onwards he returned to providing greater emphasis on musicality than on sheer roaring texture. Contrary to dimwitted belief, he was never really industrial in the first place - in fact any person using the term industrial in relation to their music who isn't a former member of Throbbing Gristle should probably feel free to either grow up or piss off - but such associations tend to stick, no matter how wide of the mark they may be, and so the man's actual talents often tend to be either overlooked or misunderstood. Thirlwell is above all a composer, as even his early Philip Glass inspired efforts will reveal. His work is almost always narrative in that it tells a story, even if it's a non-verbal story and the progression isn't always linear. His music is assembled with expert care; and the quotation or cut and paste of other musical genres is more of a grappling with musical language than just sticking a load of unrelated crap together in the hope it will freak someone out. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it could be argued he's closer in spirit to Rogers & Hammerstein, or at least to The Residents, than the Sex Pistols or Nurse With Wound.

Hide takes a few spins to sink in, but once it does, it's as tenacious as one of those terrifying Australian fish that swims up your hampton. Initially it comes as a shock, not least because this time he's added opera, psychedelia and mariachi music to the blend whilst somehow still producing something that sounds like Foetus. This is what I mean by grappling with musical language - the operatic Cosmetics cuts no corners, avant-garde classical time signatures all over, bits of Schoenberg, professional singers all expertly woven together by a master's hand to produce what is essentially the genuine article, as opposed to just some kid with a sampler and a Beethoven CD. The sheer overwhelming quality of song writing - or perhaps I mean composition - remains strong throughout, and although it's hard to pin down the actual thrust of the narrative, it feels like there is one - I'm guessing something roughly environmental, although that may be a little simplistic as an interpretation.

Hide is distinctly a Foetus album whilst also sounding like nothing you will have heard before, which is quite an achievement for something which quotes so freely from other genres. If there was ever any doubt, aside from being one of the few artists who can whistle mournfully during the bridge of a song without sounding like a knob, Thirlwell really is a musical genius.

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