Long serving vehicle for the Australian born musican, composer and artist J G Thirlwell, Foetus has long been one of the most original and influential forces of modern music. After a brief stint in post-punk band Prag Vec in the late 70´s, Foetus hit the music scene with his first singles in 1981, pioneering experimental and industrial music in an age where you had to rely on real instruments and tape loops instead of samplers. Many of the early works (like 12″ singles “Calamity Crush”, “Wash/Slog”, “Finely honed machine” as well as LP´s “Hole” and “Nail”) were miles ahead of his contemporaries. Seriously, in the beginning of the 80´s, there was absolutely nothing like Foetus. The sonic inventiveness, the almost absurd level of intensity, the black humour and real darkness of the lyrics, which in combination with the idiosyncratic artwork made up an absolutely unique experience.
Continuing to be prolific down the years he has released a string of albums under the Foetus moniker, as well as more orchestral material under the names Steroid Maximus and Manorexia. The latest album “Soak” (2013) has obvious connections to the preceding album “Hide”, released in 2010. A disparate collection of original Thirlwell songs mixed with chosen renderings of material from Daniel Miller, the John Carpenter “Halloween”-theme, Nino Ferrer and the Danger Global Warming project. Lately he´s been turning down the manic energy slightly and stumbled into a musical landscape characterizeed by some sort of alternative universe perverted opera that sometimes overplays the theatricality.
Opener “Red and black and grey and white” turns out a high energy blend of the kind of big band jazzy things he used to do with Steroid Maximus and the early Foetus apocalyptic outbursts. A beginning of the album that absolutely blows you away. “Pratheism” is a perfect example of the bombastic operatic craziness mentioned above, that is guaranteed to make you wonder – WTF is this?
The disturbing ballad “Alabaster” contrasts the beautiful orchestration with lyrics full of unsound imagery. The cover of Mute Records founder Daniel Miller´s “Warm leatherette” perverts the original´s rather neutral presentation into something that sounds like it´s sung by the dirt-caked homeless person on the corner. “Kamikaze”´s sweet piano-driven pop wouldn´t have sounded out of place on John Lennon´s “Imagine” album, if it wasn´t for the lyrics. “Halloween/Turbulence” drives John Carpenter´s film score classic into Foetus opera-mode, adding to strangeness and sense of wonder.
Nino Ferrer´s “La rua madureira” is equal parts French chanson and vertiginous carnival orchestra, and is followed by some dramatic music from the Danger Global Warming Project, apparently penned by old Stranglers man Hugh Cornwell (??!??). “Spat” begins with echoes from early 80´s Rupert Hine before going weird orchestral Foetus with eerie lyrics. The remix of “Cosmetics” from the “Hide” album is a no holds barred 8 minutes plus indulgence, and if it was a bit too much on that album it´s even more so here. If he´s singing about the Brazilian benzodiazepine or about something else is hard to say, but closer “Mesmerin” leaves you with a chilly and slightly anaesthesized feeling – “live your life thru your dreams but the body is numb”.
Let me say something about the artwork of this album in particular and Foetus in general. Ever since his first efforts this has been an artist with a fully realized concept of music, lyrics and album art. The general style has changed over the years, into his current aesthetic of optical illusions on the discs themselves and the stylized covers with their pseudo-asian letterings. Instantly recognizable with a lot of red, white and black they create a visual language all his own. The fact that the lyric sheet for this particular record contains both a close-up of Bassett´s Liquorice Allsorts and a picture of the Philips PM5544 test card for channel two of Swedish National Television just adds to the intrigue.
I have huge respect for J G Thirlwell as an artist, and advise anyone unfamiliar to his work to start exploring. Despite being sort of a rollercoaster ride this album is brilliant in many parts, and never ever uninteresting. It´s difficult to find artists that manage to consistently deliver output with this level of quality and innovation for so long.