Second in a series of archival releases culling THE JAZZ BUTCHER’s albums together, The Violent Years delves into the first half of the group’s tenure at Creation Records, from 1988 to 1991. As with The Wasted Years, this one is a 4CD book-bound set, and includes longplayers Fishcotheque, Big Planet Scarey Planet, Cult of the Basement and Condition Blue.
By the time The Jazz Butcher’s residency at Glass Records came to an end, the band had turned in Distressed Gentlefolk, their most polished elpee to date. After realizing that his contract was up – and he had basically disbanded the band – Butchie signed to the hot Creation Records and decided to do an album with more of the indie sound of the early records. He didn’t quite achieve that. 1988’s Fishcotheque came off as an almost identical record, production-wise, to Gentlefolk. As for the songs, yes, Pat Fish had written some real barn-burners, like “Looking for Lot 49,” “Next Move Sideways” and “Chickentown,” the type which were sorely missing from the previous outing. But others, like “Get It Wrong” and “Susie,” were kinder and gentler, despite a new group of musicians. He achieved a bit more of the distress he was looking for on the following year’s Big Planet Scarey Planet, at least in sound, but the songs themselves were mostly of the same two veins – either kinda rockin’ (“Burglar of Love”) or kinda personal (“The Good Ones”). What did stand out, though, were new things like “Do the Bubonic Plague,” a stab at creating a new dance craze (which was a thing back in the day!) with all kinds of dialog samples and a pretty funky rock groove, and “The Word I Was Looking For,” which, though of the fastest tempo on the record, is also one of the smoothest tunes on the release. Fishcotheque and Big Planet delivered both the clever/humorous wordplay and the beat group sound we’d come to expect from anything attributed to any group with the words Jazz and Butcher in its name. Cut from the same cloth, then, these first two Creation releases were indicative of a band that really needed to shake things up.
And that happened on 1990’s Cult of the Basement, which figuratively and literally closed the door on the first era of The Jazz Butcher. Opening with the sound of an actual door shutting, the album ushers in a new, fully realized sound drenched in reverb and perhaps a bit of disgust, tempered by Fish’s usual verve with words. “The Basement” has a sinister, spy-theme vibe motif that is expanded upon a few times on the album, and is followed by the should’ve been hit single, “She’s on Drugs,” a tune that epitomizes the man/band’s ability to house his wry observations about the current pop scene in a spot-on corker of a song. Other JB classics are “Pineapple Tuesday” and my favorite, “Mr. Odd,” both slow/medium tempo songs, the latter somehow encapsulating just what makes The Jazz Butcher one of my favorite bands from the ’80s/’90s. At that time I not only played their records as much as I could get away with on my college radio show (KCMU birthed many a Pacific Northwest JB fan), but also reviewed the album in local music magazine, The Rocket. [Click here for a post of that review.] Further standout tunes on Basement include “Girl Go,” “Turtle Bait” and “Panic in Room 109,” which takes the aforementioned spy theme idea and cloaks it in a complete song of its own. I still can’t get enough of Cult of the Basement, even nearly thirty years later.
Condition Blue, from 1991, is a further expansion of what Fish & Co. created in the Basement. This time the songs are built more around grooves, and the musicians let these grooves go until conclusion (instead of fading them out). That concept doesn’t always work out well, but it does here. My faves on Blue are “Shirley Maclaine,” “She’s a Yo-Yo,” “Our Friends the Filth,” and the super groovy “Harlan” and “Racheland.” The guitars and vocals are pushed into maximum reverberation, creating more of that badass atmosphere that The Jazz Butcher had patented a couple of years earlier.
From here, The Jazz Butcher story goes kinda wonky – and I’m guessing that it will be told in a further box set. However, I must reiterate here that a collection of the JB’s singles and B-sides would be a welcome addition to the two anthologies we’ve been treated to so far. Call it Wasted Violence, or Violent Waste, or whatever you want. As I’ve said before, there are a solid three or four CDs worth of Jazz Butchery that deserve to be preserved before releasing things in a physical format becomes a thing of the past.
4.75/5 (Fire Records FIRECD470, 2018)