Monday, September 07, 2015
GODFLESH - Streetcleaner
What's old is new again. I originally bought the Streetcleaner CD in 1990, as many did around that time. It came out the year previous, but it was a bit of a creeper, a slow-burn release which appealed greatly to a certain breed of music fan who missed the old Swans of yore, was enjoying the Melvins of the Ozma/Bullhead days (ie. the records the Melvins were releasing right about then), the then-current school of UK heaviness a la Head Of David, Terminal Cheesecake and the first couple of longplayers from Napalm Death and Carcass (both of which are fucking essential, whether you know it or not).
Having been through the HC wringer for a half-decade, being out of high school and actually having a disposable income of sorts due to warehouse/office jobs throughout breaks in higher learning, I was going off in a thousand different directions: grindcore, noise, hip-hop, AmRep sludge, Shimmy Disc, the last dying gasps of the SST empire (both Pell Mell and Slovenly still had something up their sleeves), NZ sounds, Touch & Go's then still fine output (Didjits, Killdozer, Slint) and more. Some of this stuff has aged like last week's bread, and some of it still lights a fire under yer backside in a most amenable manner.
And then there were Godflesh, then a trio formed by mainstay Justin Broadrick. As a young gent, Justin spent some time in a nascent Napalm Death, was briefly in Head Of David and has since enjoyed an unlikely career as some kind of Godfather Of Heaviness dabbling in all manner of projects (the first Jesu album, self-titled as it is, I covered in this blog about a decade ago, and for me it remains the finest thing he ever did - or at least the finest I've heard). Godflesh were the first band to really make his name a name, if you get my drift, and Streetcleaner made a major splash at the time and is now herladed by all and sundry as a 'classic'. Indeed it is.
After Streetcleaner, Godflesh kind of changed tact and veered off into a number of musical directions, none of them particularly good, I must say. I heard some of the post-Streetcleaner material at the time - I think my brother made an error of judgment and purchased a CD of theirs - and it was some variety of shitawful 'techno-metal' which had, as you'd expect, metal riffs intertwined w/ techno beats, and whilst that's obviously some people's idea of a good time, it ain't mine. In the late '90s they 'went back to their roots' a bit and even recorded an album or two with an acoustic drummer (can I recall these album's names? No), and I recall them being kind of listenable. Perhaps. Anyway, I speak of the debut...
I sold my CD copy some time in the '90s, and, as can sometimes be the case, found myself repurchasing a special 2CD remastered edition a couple of years back, which contains a fancy foldout digipak sleeve with a ton of liner notes, and a bonus live/demos CD which I think I might have listened to once or twice. I find myself enjoying the album a lot more now than I did a quarter of a century ago. I recall that, as a young man, I would play the first two or three songs, get bored by the middle of the album and skip to the bonus EP at the end, their self-titled four-songer from 1988, which is slightly rawer than the album (still w/ a drum machine) and contains four impeccable tracks: 'Tiny Tears', 'Wound', 'Dead Head' and 'Suction' (Youtube and ye shall find). All of those songs are worth hearing. In fact, if you only hear four Godflesh songs in this lifetime, make them those. But what's also worth spinning, now as I stroke my paunch in middle age, is the rest of Streetcleaner. That middle section of the album - tracks like 'Dream Long Dead', 'Head Dirt'... whoah, dude! - sound much less meandering than they did in my impetuous youth - almost composed, and fitting to make Streetcleaner a goddamn album to be reckoned with.
Nearly everything which makes up the album - the dark lyrical matter focussed on decay and death, pounding drum-machine rhythms, downtuned guitars and barked vocals - became a bad cliche almost upon release; lord knows, Australia suffered a small outbreak of similar bands in the first half of the '90s, and they were tough times, but as an album, Streetcleaner works and delivers as promised. You could say it's strictly a perfunctory album of 'heaviness' - I play this loud in the car when I want a dose of badassness as I'm going to pick up the kids from school or whatever - but it's got more depth than that. Hell, I'm all grown up now, and Godflesh's Streetcleaner sounds A-OK to these ears.