Sunday, April 24, 2011

Album Review: Pigface - "Gub" (1990)


So, here's the first Pigface album. It took me a while, but I finally got around to getting and listening to their albums, which was not the easiest thing in the world - a sad commentary in and of itself. I don't generally do this, but because of the nature of this band, I'm going to be doing this track-by-track. Shit's gonna get long-winded in here.

First, some backstory: Pigface was the brainchild of tragically hip egomaniac poser and rivethead folk hero Martin Atkins (known at this point for being in Public Image Ltd. for a chunk of the 80's, and being in Ministry and Killing Joke for about five minutes apiece) and Bill Rieflin of Ministry and Revolting Cocks (though it seems apparent that Rieflin was mostly being dragged along for the ride). Atkins had this grandiose scheme, see, to create this act with no sturdy lineup, who went back to the punk and industrial agendas of total disregard for song structure or audience expectations or doing shit that other bands did. This approach was not nearly as successful as Atkins expected it to be, but they cranked out some decent tunes at least. And here we are with their first record, made by the two boys (plus indie asshole hero Steve Albini) with a bunch of their buddies adding some vocals and extra instrumentation.

The first track, "Tapeworm", is a great success right out the gate. Nivek Ogre (of Skinny Puppy fame) delivers an impressive screeching vocal while Steve Albini drops a dirty, sauntering bassline and the Atkins/Rieflin duo gives us the expected awesome drumwork (which is one of the few consistently good things on this album).
The second track, "The Bushmaster", is pretty good as well. The boys do a good job with making a minimalistic setup sound strong - it's just Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow's usual demented rambling backed by some frenzied drums (plus some odd sound effect tape loops supplied in a cameo by Trent Reznor, apparently).
"Cylinder Head World" is where shit starts getting weird and reservations about the quality of the album begin creeping in. It's nearly four sparse minutes of random sound effect punctuated by silence. Stuff like someone sawing at some guitar strings, someone playing a bassline in the distance, some feedback noises, I dunno. If it had some kind of even minimalistic music behind it, I would be more forgiving, but as-is, it sounds like someone shuffling about in the studio and tuning the instruments unknowingly with the mic still on. According to Chris Connelly, this was an attempt by Martin Atkins to be all rebellious and uber-industrial by doing true anti-music. We're not impressed, Martin.
However, disappointment from this track is mopped away once we hear "Point Blank", one of my favorite things Pigface ever released. It's a very alternative-rock-ish track with a wonderful Bowie-esque croon from diverse singer-songwriter & Ministry/Revolting Cocks collaborator Chris Connelly, and some really nice guitar work from Albini. It's a wonderful song, and it's not even very 'industrial'-sounding. It's kind of like a more stripped-down and overall better-sounding version of something we'd have gotten from Murder Inc. It'll be hard to top this'un.
Now comes what is probably Pigface's most famous song... "Suck", starring Trent Reznor on vox and giving the ever-awesome Paul Barker a great supporting role on bass. Now, don't get me wrong, I like this song - I like the dusty bass, I like the marching-drums percussion, but the production sucks and something doesn't sound right about it. It sounds kinda naked and, well, like an unfinished demo or something (reportedly at Steve Albini's insistence, as Trent had some electronics and other things planned that Albini put the kibosh on). Because of this, I tend to prefer NIN's cover of the song, as it sounds more fully realized to me.
"Symphony for Taps" is another 'hey guys, look at me destroying the system!' track, but slightly more tolerable than the first. Samples of running water with a headache-inducing repeated synth string(?)
"The Greenhouse" is actually kind of good, and the first track on here made solely by the Atkins/Rieflin/Albini trio that I can say that about. It's an instrumental featuring jazz drums and weird screaming electronic noises. I like it.
"Little Sisters" brings Connelly back for another go. The song itself is mostly boring but it has a nice dual-guitar attack from Bill Rieflin and ill-fated WaxTrax-era guitarist William Tucker.
"Tailor Made" is another fairly decent track, starring Paul Barker on bass and lead vocals. It's got an awesome funky bassline and it makes me sad that he didn't sing on more Ministry stuff.
"War Ich Nicht Immer Ein Guter Junge? War Ich Nicht Immer Schoen und Nett? Ich Zerpfluckte Niemals Eine Spinne - War Niemals Frech und Stahl" (you think the title's long enough?) brings En Esch of KMFDM into the fold... Unfortunately the track doesn't do much for me. It's the formula of "Esch rasps over some frenetic drums" (also featuring an annoying electronic drone in this incarnation) that the band would revisit a few times on later albums and do better.
"Blood and Sand" is a very cool and interesting track with an ominous buildup and some creepy, heavily-processed vocals by Chris Connelly again. Oh, and Matt Schulz from that band Lab Report contributes some electronics work or something. I'd love to hear more like this.
The album proper closes with "Weightless", another decent track in the vein of "Point Blank", but more metal and featuring Barker on bass. Not too shabby.
Following that, we get some remixes that mostly add extra punch to aspects of the album, plus an inexplicable shortened version of "Suck" as a hidden track. Huh?

File:Pigface 1991.jpg

Altogether, it's not too shabby an album. Fairly inconsistent, but nothing compared to how much so the band would be getting in subsequent outings. I know I give Atkins and the gang a lot of shit but it's all in good fun... I think I'm one of the few people who would actually say they prefer this to pretty much any Pigface album, including Fook. Something about the lo-fi experimental feel to it appeals to me, as does its crossovers into Big Black/Jesus Lizardy noise rock territory.

So... this is probably a good starting point with Pigface, because if you fall in love with their later stuff, you may end up underwhelmed - this lacks the busy production and buttloads of guest appearances that the others feature. It kind of stands alone in their discography really... I mean, I don't necessarily dislike what the band has become, but imagine what would have happened if Atkins wasn't such a repulsive dick and he was able to keep most of these guys around long enough to want to make more music in this vein with him...

RATING: 3.5/5

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