[…continued from last post]
From the opening of “Living It Down” things only got stranger. “In The Green” was almost a boozy love song to filthy lucre itself, with the verses proffering abject devotion while the choruses cast a colder eye on the dynamics of such a relationship. “Roll the Bodies Over” featured kaleidoscopic wordplay from Mick Lynch that fit together like a tightly cut puzzle on the verses, while the chorus consisted of expansive melodies that actually began to soar above the nervous, chaotic music. For the first time, really. The middle eight was perverse in the extreme as the song ground to a halt to deliver the following burst of lyrics below. Say it just how it looks for a real sense of how it was.
ANDSOBETWEENTHETWOOFTHEMCREATEDCONTRADICTION” – “Roll The Bodies Over”
The eccentricity peaked with the arrhythmic, stuttering “Bone.” Tattoo bursts of drums managed to connect with some other elements every 13th bar or so to test just how doggedly the human brain seeks to find rhythms even in the most disparate of environments, where such niceties are not always present. The lyrics remind me of the Dawn Of Man segment in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The bone in this case being a weapon similar to the use of such in the famous film.
The US edition of the album had a substitution of the band’s earlier song “Buffalo” from “Quirk Out” in the place of “Eager Bereaver.” I can sort of see why. “Buffalo” was a slurry funk that lyrically resembled Spinal Tap’s best song§, and featured flatulent fretless bass oozing out of the many spaces in the arangement as the guitar twangs gleefully bounced around like springs. Once heard, it’s etched into the mind for good. Especially if the listener made it to the psychotic middle eight where Lynch becomes unhinged raving about how much the fish and chips cost.
The mild-mannered intro of “Chaos” [an appropriate title if ever one heard one while listening to this album] was deceptively normal, proffering an Irish jig that only became something else once the creaking timbers of a ship began intruding on the reverie. The lyric was an alliterative dive into a seafaring bucket that painted the horrors of seafaring men with references to mutinies, keelhauling, and hangings. All delivered in a theatrical call and response manner by Lynch and the chorus of his massed voices. At the end it all resolved into several bars of happily ironic sea shanty before a steamboat’s engines brought it all to a quixotic conclusion. Mick Lynch had lobbied for this to be the first single, so it was. Not that it troubled the charts in the least.
Side two began with the most straightforward and musical song here. “Alcohol” was a sober look at the power of drink in a minor key setting that was nevertheless, the only 4/4 tempo on offer on this album. If there was a single song on “A Fierce Pancake” that could be covered by another band, this one was it. But there was another brush with more common sounds. “Doctor [A Visit To The]” began with a snaking surf rock beat and the peals of guitar riding that wave had the tone of Geordie Walker from Killing Joke. This gave the song a more rock-centric bearing thought the keyboards were as dissonant as ever with liquid reverb distorting them. This hemmed in the eccentricity somewhat to sound very Post-Punk.
Then the frantic screed of “Boggy Home” brought the evasive album to a nerve-wracking finish. Never has expressing the sentiment of returning home ever sounded so alarming and enervating. The tempo here was furious with Chris Salmon’s flanged picking upping the unsettling ante. I was amazed when the furiously paced song stopped for a split second cold for a man to mutter “mother of christ” under his breath. And pick right up a second later until the song ended with Mick Lynch screaming in possible agony as the song ended abruptly.
The production here was largely by Holger Hiller of Palais Schaumburg. Hugh Jones had produced the band’s successful indie mini-album, “Quirk Out” where the band had sold an impressive 50,000 copies. That Jones had produced Bauhaus had probably netted him the job. But bassist Kevin Hopper guided the band elsewhere for their full album. Intriguingly, sessions were held with NY electrodisco producer John Robie, who was behind some of the messier New Order single mixes. All that survived from those sessions was the top selling [#79] “Charlton Heston” single. This was both the band at their least off-putting as well as by far the strangest John Robie production ever. For a guy known for cut-up disco mixes for Cab Volt and New Order, “Charlton Heston” sounded close to folk music – save for the distinctive treefrog rhythms and happily daft lyrics.
Hopper has written that the band didn’t care for Hiller’s production but that was where Hopper’s head was at the time. He was already alienating his bandmates for caring more about samplers [as primitive as they were back then] than playing bass guitar so the producer of “Oben Im Eck” and his anti-rock tirades in the control room was balm for Hopper’s ears. Hiller did manage to help make an album that sounds often alien at times with noises of clattering sounds of destruction woven into the mix that I can’t tell are drums, bass, guitars, or samples.
I do have to say that after disappearing down the Stump rabbit hole for days at a time, none of it sounds particularly as alien to me as it did on the first run through. Given a few plays, my mind was responding to the thoroughly deconstructed music with some extreme time signatures as if it were just more pop music, so if anyone reading this has been quick to write Stump off, this is definitely music that needs a chance or two to begin emitting rewards. Sadly, the band were not on the receiving end of any rewards, having helmed a successful indie release only to relatively flop on their first major label outing. The band broke up afterward and save for odds and ends recorded afterward by one or more members included in their 2007 3xCD “The Complete Anthology” CD, that was all we got.
– 30 –
§ “Big Bottom,” of course!
Great summary, and definitely true regarding how their music needs time to reveal its charms. I remember hearing “A Fierce Pancake” in college and thought it was utter dross, only to bump into them again 20 years later (after having assimilated Captain Beefheart among others) and falling madly for everything they did. “The Complete Anthology” is definitely the way to go to get it all in one go.
Gerald McBoing-Boing – You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the elephant in the room with Stump: Captain Beefheart. I have to admit that I’ve only ever heard a scant few Beefheart songs and all of them had a strong blues component to them that I am simply not hearing in the music of Stump; as challenging as it was. I do perhaps hear Stump influence on other bands. Primus, possibly.
Here’s one of Beefheart’s better known tracks (it was covered by XTC). Not particularly bluesy. You can hear the foundational roots of the mutant pop/rock of Stump here pretty clearly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gZULn9R2Dk