Monday, September 20, 2004

THUG - Mechanical Ape/Proud Idiots Parade LP; Electric Wooly Mammoth LP
So far as the world of Australian absurdist noise goes, I doubt you could top these two LPs from the infamous Thug. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the world of Thug at the tender age of 15 when my older brother came home with their Fuck Your Dad 7" and a copy of the Waste Sausage compilation LP, though I'd be lying if I said they made any sense at the time. For the time being, I decided to stick to what I knew and understood: dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers punk rock. That moment of true understanding didn't arrive until roughly four years later when, with a wild thirst for ear-destroying noise, I finally purchased these two LPs for myself. A little background information is required here...

Thug were the trio of Tex Perkins, Lachlan McLeod and Peter Read. Those who aren't aware of the music and antics of Thug usually snicker when I mention the first name listed there, since, perhaps unbenownst to international readers of this site, he's actually a fairly well-known "rock star" down under, and enjoyed massive success in the '90s with his band the Cruel Sea (and there's also Beasts of Bourbon, but you probably already know that). If there are any doubting Thomas' who poo-poo the possibility of Tex engaging in an exciting, hilarious and extremely fucked-up noise ensemble, I pull out these discs. The catch-phrase is thus: "It's the best thing Tex ever did", which I guess means nothing since I've never been a fan of anything else he's ever done, but you get the idea. When I bumped into him at a pub about 7 or 8 years back in Sydney (at a Jad Fair gig, no less) I uttered something along those lines to the man, and he was at least gracious enough to not punch me out on the spot. Nice guy.

Thug were part of the notorious, drug-imbibing music scene of the mid/late '80s centred around the Black Eye label, the "experimental" imprint of the more straight-forward indie, Red Eye, and their catalogue of beautiful weirdness is something well worth investigating. Hyped up by the good people of B-Side 'zine at the time, most people's introduction to this world of sound was likely via the 1987 compilation, the previously mentioned Waste Sausage LP. With an abundance of toilet humour and nonsensical racket at their disposal, it - along with its sister release, Leather Donut - are classic documents of Australian perversity and good arguments for the continuing dole payments to creative layabouts nationwide. Never on CD, long deleted, you're not likely to find them in a secondhand bin near you any time soon, but if that moment occurs, you know what to do.

Following the release of their controversial (well, duh!) 7", Fuck Your Dad (which, if I'm not mistaken, received some "straight" press at the time for its vulgarity), Thug spat out the Mechanical Ape/Proud Idiots Parade LP in '87. A truly messed up and wildly inventive mixture of lewd gags, extraneous noise, instrument abuse and a heavy dose of the Residents makes it a classic of the genre. If you've ever had your brain melted by the likes of the Los Angeles Free Music Society or the early Ralph Records stable, you need this sitting proudly in your collection. Stunning primitivist cover art, track upon track of ungodly filth, informative liner notes (sample: "Albert Camus's Underpants: I've been taking Vitamin B and the wounds around my anus are starting to heal. I was wearing Albert Camus's underpants", etc.) and a smorgasboard of ridiculous song titles which probably don't actually match up to any of the music, this is not only fucking ridiculous, but ridiculously good.

Their sole follow-up, 1988's Electric Wooly Mammoth, is even better. Cleaner and more musical in approach - which really only means that the "songs" here amount to more than just screwing around in the studio whilst high on pills and other substances - ...Mammoth rates as an all-time Top 10 Australian Album for myself. It's an unbeatable hybrid of squalling noise, sublime acoustic guitar passages (actual tunes present), didgeridoo ragas, Residents-style electro pop, Chrome-ish sci-fi rock and the usual serving of primary-school humour. Note the stunning chorus to "Penis": "Penis penis penis, bosom bosom, arsehole". Housed in a typically ace full-colour sleeve and sporting a few nice black and white photos of our heroes inside, Electric Wooly Mammoth is a perfect package.

What happened to Thug? Well, I distinctly remember Tex Perkins once saying in an interview that drugs had destroyed every single band he'd ever been in, so I can only assume that answers the question. With a scene as "intense" as the one surrounding and encompassing the band, such creative impulses can only last so long before people burn themselves out. Tex went onto bigger things (though he was also playing in the more high-profile Beasts Of Bourbon - who pre-date Thug by a few years - concurrently anyway), Lachlan McLeod messed around with Lubricated Goat for a few years and Peter Read remains, at least to me, a man of mystery. Life is full of regrets, but one which comes to mind right now is having never seen a Thug gig. OK, I was too young at the time anyway, but from all reports their live shows were a hilarious mixture of noise and stupidity, often resulting in the band simply getting naked, covering themselves in food and wrestling on stage. Now that's a show!

Both of these LPs tragically suffered the worst reissue ever in the hands of the Grudge label - a completely useless "alternative" imprint of Universal - about 5 years ago. Without publicising it in any way - in fact, without telling anyone on earth of its existence - they were compiled onto one CD with the grammatically flawed title of Everything Is Beautiful In It's Own Way (sic), accompanied by dreadful cover art, no reproductions of the original and truly exceptional covers, no photos and little information as to who the hell Thug were. Why this CD exists as it does (or did: it's deleted) remains a mystery. The goddamn ninnies didn't even have the balls to print the full title of "Fuck Your Dad", instead listing it as simply "Dad". A pee-thetic legacy to a great band, I don't usually recommend such collector mentality, but I'll say this: search out the original LPs instead.

lexdev@yahoo.com.au



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