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Butthole Surfers – [Album]

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Saturday, 08 September 2007
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For those that know the band or have even a passing knowledge of the American underground music scene that came around in the 1980s, there is a portion of the Butthole Surfers’ history, recorded output and lore that is incredibly tantalizing. The backstory goes like this: formed in 1981, Austin’s Butthole Surfers gradually built a cult following on the strength of spectacularly orchestrated (not necessarily on purpose, mind you) and wilfully perverse live performances (outlined in dripping Technicolor in Michael Azerrad’s novel, Our Band Could Be Your Life), almost a decade’s-worth of near-ceaseless touring and a series of records that illustrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that mind-blowing innovation was perfectly possible on a shoestring budget and little more than gratuitous doses of will and talent. By 1995, the work had paid off; the Surfers had long since crossed the line that marks where punks becomes musicians, subverted the mainstream by signing to a major record label (Capitol), and even released a couple of well-received singles (“Who Was In My Room Last Night?” from Independent Worm Saloon and “Pepper” from Electriclarryland); suffice it to say that Capitol was looking for the Surfers to produce something comparable with that prior success.

It didn’t work out that way. When the band finished its follow-up to Electriclarryland, the label, according to Surfers drummer King Coffey, was set to release the album and even went so far as to ship advance promotional copies to select reviewers [After The Astronaut did garner a favorable review in Spin –ed] but, when a series of obstacles unexpectedly presented themselves, the album was delayed and ultimately vanished.

“We refused to sign off on its release at the last minute,” confesses Coffey of the unexpected change of plans that found After The Astronaut committed to the vaults. “Then everything went to hell and it's complicated.”

The band went back to the drawing board with the material for three years before resurfacing with The Weird Revolution on a new label (Surf Dog) with some of the original tracks from the old sessions being re-worked with Pro Tools (the new toy of the day) and four different songs (including “Shame Of Life” co-written by Kid Rock). The resulting content was a very good record for its day; it was danceable, light, boasted fluid transitions, had a single in “Shame Of Life” that did get play during the average person’s waking hours, another new song, “Dracula In Houston,” appeared in the soundtrack for an episode of Scrubs, and the overall feel of the record—poppy, fairly non-threatening (which, for a Surfers record was very disconcerting indeed)—should have flown. It didn’t though. Fans of the band were aghast at the new sound; the public was already pulling away from Kid Rock so cross-promotion died on the vine; those available markets for the band’s new sound weren’t really looking so new potential fans that were more interested in Korn and Limp Bizkit at that particular moment weren’t flocking, and for the first time the Butthole Surfers seemed to actually be concerned by those things. The Weird Revolution was, first and foremost, very much a record of its day as timely gimmicks (again courtesy of Pro Tools) saturate the songs. It wasn’t a bad record, but it was only an average Butthole Surfers record in the vein of Pioughed.

So what happened to the unreleased record? That debate has become the topic of something resembling urban mythology. While the original—and really, far superior—version of “They Came In” landed largely unannounced upon the Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack, what the rest of After The Astronaut’s content sounded like remains a mystery for most of the record-buying public.

In retrospect, After The Astronaut was a very, very good Butthole Surfers crossover record insofar as the tracks were, yes, a little more watery and subdued, but flow very well as an album and aren’t jarred by second thoughts as some of the tracks became on Weird Revolution. Without the Pro Tools over-treatment, “Intelligent Guy” builds more eerie tension and is compelling because of it when compared to its WR counterpart, “They Came In” is a pretty damned good rock song in the tradition of “Bed Last Night” and “Yentel,” while still being very strange—in a way that would be more palatable to Surfers fans instead of being flopped upon a dance-pop fanbase that just isn’t there.

Hilariously, the irony of both The Weird Revolution and After The Astronaut is that the best individual tracks, as well as the strongest mixes of the songs, that appear on both are evenly divided between the discs; “Shame Of Life,” “Dracula In Houston,” “Shit Like That” (all from Weird Revolution) and “Intelligent Guy,” “Imbuya,” “They Came In” and “Turkey And Dressing” (from Astronaut) would, combined, make one strong effort together with a few of the other more solid tracks from both thrown in to round out an album. At this point, fans can hope that at some point the Butthole Surfers will release a double-set collection of both records so that, at the very least, the whole story can be heard. This material is too strong to go to waste.

More In Butthole Surfers, including a grip of free mp3s, click here: www.buttholesurfers.com

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