VARIOUS ARTISTS, The Wailing Ultimate (Homestead)
Melody Maker, summer 1987
by Simon Reynolds
compilations are unlistenable by definition, because they’re motley.
Colours clash, moods jar, idioms mingle promiscuously but
unsuccessfully. This sampler from the Homestead roster works because of
its consistency. Everything here is unrelentingly GREY--but this is the
valiant grey of a Husker Du rather than the miserable grey of a Close
Lobsters or Shrubs, grey by choice rather than grey by default. And
everything is designed to appeal to masochist sensibilities, ears that
will never tire of being brutalized.
There’s so much
talent in evidence here, bands that could be Sonic Youths or Big Blacks
(the latter represented here by “Il Duce”) in chrysalis. In the US right
now there seems to be a genuinely productive interface between punk and
the legacy of hippiedom, bands like the Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets,
Sonic Youth. Over here all we’ve got is post-goth nouveau blues boogie,
plus all that Grebo shite. Maybe because the British way is to soak
things up as a look, a lifestyle.
The Homestead bands
pictured on the sleeve look like slobs, wear stained tee-shirts, garish
Hawaian shirts, scuffed jeans: they could be from anywhere or any era.
They look like they always looked like this. The energy British
bands put into camp attention to period detail, into looking cool, these
bands put into chilling the blood.
Several shades of
grey here. There’s the weird shit, songs that are like multiple pile-up
collisions between idioms. Dinosaur are what I imagine Meat Puppets
would sound like if they came from a steel town rather than the desert:
psychedelic impulses struggling up through the slag and smog to kiss the
sky. Volcano Suns’s “White Elephant” has this riff like lightning
striking in Morse Code, then mutates into a hybrid of Black Flag and
Orange Juice. Antietam’s “In A Glass Code” is perhaps the most
schizo-eclectic of the lot, its fractures and tangents managing to spike
our attention thanks to the bleak, folkadelic wail of Tara Key. There’s
virtuoso noise from Phantom Tollbooth (raga spasms, Mahavishnu
somersaults), Squirrel Bait (“they flash a proud marble”) and Live Skull
(veil upon veil of detuned guitar haze). There’s brutish, heavy-handed
power pop (of a sort) from Breaking Circus, Naked Raygun and The
Reactions, coarse wedges of horizon.
Last word to
Great Plains, who close things up with the hilarious spoof “Letter To a
Fanzine”. On the sleeve, singer Ron House claims: “With the possible
exception of The New Seekers, I don’t think there’s been any band with
less soul than Great Plains. Whether you definite ‘soul’ as the
‘certitude of essence’, ‘the way James Brown moves’, or ‘the pride in
your own value’, we don’t have it”. The groups on The Wailing Ultimate may lack soul; what they possess in abundance is lack. This is music whose energy does not stem from a complacent sense of “pride and dignity”, but from frustration and doubt.