Monday, September 18, 2006

Foetus: Nail LP (Homestead/1986)

Who doesn't get enough love?

Foetus doesn't get enough love.

Too punk for the art crowd. Too arty for the punk crowd. The metal guys don't know what to do with his haircut and the indie kids go running away screaming. And all the industrial kids are long dead or have gone Christian. What to do... what to do...???????

First, go thee to his Myspace page and listen to the four streaming cuts and then please, please come back here and deny the true ascendancy of Foetus to Godhood. I fucking dare ya. No one hard-mashes up genres like this guy and his sonicscapes are drool-worthy for those home studio types who could only dream to match his skillz.

A guy who refuses to pissdrink from the pools of sell-out single genre, rejects any frame or context you might put him in and still remains hard as, well, nails. And with something like four dozen records under his belt, he's no flash in the pan, limpdick, drug burnout. I'm kinda glad his singing chops have improved and he's hiding the "wallowing-in-despair-and-degradation" that his earlier (pre-girlfriend?) stuff seems most suited for.

And Foetus - what a great band name -- n contrast to his other, um, poor name choices like Manorexia or Steroid Maximus - although Wiseblood, kinda cool. Offensive and interpretive from so many levels - "Foe to us" - Foetus as the Id incaranate - Foetus as the ugly little wombmonster and of course the evident connection to the whole life vs. choice religious-secular debate that divides us on almost primal levels. It's bad enough to keep him off the shelves at Wal-Mart, I'm sure.

Nail is just another in the two dozen or so Foetus records - but it contains a number of fan favorites ("Throne of Agony", "Enter The Exterminator") and some of his first forays into pure symphonic pieces ("Theme from Pigdom Come", "Overture to Pigdom Come"). Every cut seems to have a little surprise in it. My only prob with Nail is Thirwell's at times over-bearing "Oh I Is So Degraded" persona and his sometimes lack of vocal discipline - both are tendencies his later work has, um, fixed.

The concept seems to be that this is some sort of soundtrack to a movie documenting a geographic foray through the American West full of "Barflys. Fireflys. Roaches...[that] die every fucking night and fuck in the dying night" - a type of trip you'd take with Nick Cave, Charley Manson (or Bukowski) and a trunk full of mushrooms. Touchpoints for the concept might include Dante, Ginsburg, Spaghetti Westerns, Sonic Youth's "Death Valley '69" (and their later "Xpressway to Yr Skull," Spahn Ranch (one of the songs uses Manson's phone number there) as well as Hunter Thompson's own drug-fueled journey through the West. The trip seemed to be motivated by the narrator's self-hate and anger at women (""Throne of Agony" and "Pigswill"). Things go from bad to worse ("Descent Into The Inferno"). Our heroes seem to get into trouble ("Enter The Exterminator" and "DI-1-9026") and go on some sort of killing spree and then face off against each other in the desert ("Private War / Anything (Viva!)" and the "hero" is left in his madness screaming that he can do "ANYTHING! ANYTHING! ANYTHING!" Well... At least that's my take (scroll down to read someone else's)

Musical touchpoints might be Nick Cave himself (Thirlwell wrote a song for Cave and a song about him in a previous record), Eight-Eyed Spy, Coil and Euro-trash movie soundtracks.

"Overture from Pigdom Come" - One of the classical pieces. The beauty of this piece contrasts to the hellish depths of the rest of the album.

"Descent Into The Inferno" - The most B-Day Party-ish and/or Wiseblood Hell meets Heaven blues song here - probably why I like it so much. And the Manhattan Transfer break is pretty funny. Never a dull moment on this cut.

(Record pictured above - found in the budget bins at $3.99 in late 80's. Note the embossed PROMOTION USE ONLY in the lower bottom corner)

Picture taken from

In closing, and because he says it so much lucidly and more beautifully than I ever could, let me crib from the great Piero Scaruffi and his summation of Foetus's Nail:
Nail (1985), perhaps his masterpiece, was even more powerful, and in an "evil" way. Every single sound is exaggerated, overdone, dramatized. This album's songs are poems carved with a jack-hammer into the marble of a gravestone. A touch of retro attitude (not too different from Frank Zappa's ventures into orchestral and jazz music) is drowned into magniloquent, sinister, gloomy, tragic, terrifying industrial "symphonies". But, ultimately, this was also a heartbreaking cry of grief that soars in a landscape of desolation and depravation.
  • appears to be privately maintained by the artist and has all things Foetus including his astoundingly huge discographies (Sufjan, there is hope you'll make it to 50 states), an exhaustive reprinting of interviews and past reviews (source material for this posting) and an audio/video page which includes another MP3 from this album - the masterful closing cut(s) - "Private War / Anything (Viva!)"
  • Dodge still has a Foetus-Lydia Lunch cover of "Don't Fear the Reaper" available. I'm not in love with the sound of this MP3 or the fact that they chose to record this (although I hear a little bit of smirk in their singing so maybe it's a goof) ...and it's nice to hear their voices blending - they've put out other record together.
  • Foetus's last release was in 2005 with the four-lettered (all Foetus albums are "four lettered") Love. I'm afraid I haven't heard of it -- didn't even know it was out (this goes back to the beginning of the post as in where is the blog love for Thirwell?) Birdman Records
  • Blog love or not, there's plenty of You Tube! Foetus so you can see the little man with the awesome never ageing hairline shake his thing. And my fave Wiseblood
  • video - "The Fudge Punch" accompanying a lengthy colonscopy video. Har, har.
  • Jim Thirwell is the composer for the theme music of Adult Swim's very geek-cool Venture Bros
  • . I nearly shaved my ass & went for a swim when they had a guest appearance a by now-corrupt Johnny Quest a few weeks ago -- the batch of recent episodes suggest this cartoon is only hitting its stride. You can download Thirwell's over-amped "Hammer Falls" as swing-jazz show closing and opening themes right here. Go Team Venture!
  • and yes, i know that Thirwell influenced NiN but I don't really care.


guanoboy said...

What a wacked album...I always loved it...still have it on vinyl. Thanks for making me think of it.

Loki said...

love that album and all those around it... just the covers alone are worth it but Nail is one of the best... i have very fond memories of me and my friends rushing down to the record shops to pick up our order of Foetoid 12"s and when an album came out -wahey! - we'd spend ages working out how to sing along...

"well, i'm a 2-fisted fucker getting...etc" fun for all the family... in fact I was singing the non obscene bits of bedrock with my kids out on a bike ride just the other day...

stinkfists and salutations for posting this

Anonymous said...

This is yet another one of those records that changed the music I listened to and the way I listen to music. You'd put it on and everyone in the room would just shut up.

Alan Wechsler said...

I know this post is four years late, but thanks for the great entry on the Nail album. I bought it new in 1985 and was blown away. It still remains one of my all-time favorite albums and turned me into a lifelong Thirwell fan. Unfortunately, no other album has turned out as complete, as focused and as on-target as Nail. Haven't heard it since my record player broke a few years ago, but I can sing every song note for note and word for word. Adios ... see ya later!