Orchestras. I wanna talk about orchestras, the poor maligned things that they are. Once mighty engines of bombast and glory, capable of simultaneously breaking your heart and conquering the world, like smooth-talking dictators of sound. People rioted at the opening performance of The Rite Of Spring. Hitler had a successful second career as one of those guys who concentrates rather too much on the bits of Richard Wagner that most of his fans try to gloss over in favour of the fact that he was a damn good composer. Even Tom and Jerry understood the majesty of an orchestra, although they expressed their understanding of said majesty through the unorthodox means of hideous inter-species cartoon violence.
Nowadays opera is in decline, and your average Joe has been priced out of the classical performance, unless it’s in the really uncomfortable seats. (Or, worse- no seats at all. Come back to me after you’ve stood through an entire Ring Cycle and maybe THEN we can talk about dedication). For most, these days, an orchestra is either something that “swells” during the important bits in movies (not porn movies, obviously, unless “orchestra” is what you call your nob, assuming you’re male). Or worse, a thing that Metallica use to illustrate that they’ve got a bit above themselves.
But they don’t have to be. Mike Patton‘s latest album uses a full orchestra to wonderful effect. Jim Steinman has always managed to avoid the pitfalls of rock pretentiousness in orchestra use by going all the way through pretension and coming out the other side with an almost unbearable sincerity. Although he only does that for a laugh. And now, somehow, in an act of almost monumental stupidity, someone’s given Foetus a whole orchestra with which to allow his bombast full reign.
OK, he’s no stranger to the overblown. As Steroid Maximus, he’s done the soundtracks for all the best movies you’ve never seen, because nobody was awesome enough to make them. As Foetus, he’s never really gone for the intimate, preferring the jugular instead. Weirdly, the Foetus thing Hide reminds me most of is Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel‘s classic Hole, which was, as far as I recall, recorded by FAR fewer people. Good though his recent output has been, it’s often been marred by being a bit muddy – one can only assume deliberately, because he’s a genius when it comes to production. His interest in sound, which has created some of the most amazing music of the last- ooh, AGES – has tended to sideline the Foetus persona, which, for many of us on the listening end, is the best bit. We’re back with clear vocals, hilariously dark lyrics, and the half-whiny-misunderstood-teen, half-genocidal-maniac character we love. Well, when I say “we”, I mean “me and some other people,” who may or may not include you among their number. I have no idea, to be honest. I mean, nearly 500 words in and I don’t even know your name. I suck at stalking.
No, Hide is properly good. Big, as befits the guy who apparently convinced Michael Gira to restart Swans. Nasty, as befits the guy who, well, is Foetus. And beautifully orchestrated, as befits someone who’s an actual musician, rather than someone who can shout a bit and pay a couple of dudes with violins and trumpets to add “depth.” Like the Patton album, this is an orchestra being used properly. Which may seem weird for someone as iconoclastic as the boy Thirlwell, but the important part is what it’s being used properly FOR.
And it’s being used for little short of the bringing about of the Apocalypse. The choral opener, “Cosmetics,” is quite definitely music to give birth to the Antichrist to. “Paper Slippers” and “Stood Up” are both, in different ways, the voice of the bitter misanthrope with the wicked sense of humour. By the time we hit “Oilfields,” however, the end of the world is REALLY fucking nigh. “The Rapture will come today; did you get the communique?/The wild one will return, while we’re watching the oilfields burn”. Iraq becomes Megiddo, and we’ve got front row seats for the end of everything.
Just when you think you’ve got the measure of everything, Ennio Morricone turns up (in spirit, at least) to play some hardcore industrial rock in “The Ballad Of Sisyphus T Jones,” and by the end of the album we’re left going “what the fuck just happened?” I can’t really describe it any better than that – I’ve only listened to it, what, probably about twenty times, and it still keeps throwing me curveballs. By doing everything that music apparently SHOULDN’T do, he’s managed to do exactly what music SHOULD do – take your head clean off and leave it lying on the floor mouthing “Christ, that was beautiful.”
Break out the bunting- they’ll be celebrating in Sado, Massachusetts.
-The Deuteronemu 90210 all-nude revue-