Seriously plunderphonic, this baby plays Surrealist ping-pong with ’50s advertising, sped-up exotica, Brat Pack crooners and virtually anything else that fevered mind of Steven Stapleton could chuck in there (it’s little wonder this was three years in the making).I can imagine Stapleton dressed in his crow-black finery rooting through the charity bins, this perverted twinkle in his eye as his mischievous mind affixes to new trajectories. Trajectories that fit into the loonier end of the Nurse spectrum, cross-pollinated in disruptive sonics and edit room discards, until everything is writhing round for dominance in a heap of malevolent Slinkys. If you’re driving back down the motorway at some ungodly hour, dog-tired, these dislocations will keep you ticking over in complete wakey-wakeys-ville – guaranteed! Its canker could easily be classed as Nurse With Wound’s Trout Mask Replica or bending in sympathy with Uncle Meat’s errant ways, as if a blindfolded Stapleton were holding tight to the erroneous reins Buck-a-roo stylee.
But what does it actually sound like? Well, that’s a complicated one (as you could probably imagine), not because there’s too much going on, but because every listen throws up new untasted joys that you’d swear weren’t there on previous sittings. So I’m going to try to give you a metaphorical flavour, a one-sitting impression — here goes.Track one, “You Walrus Hurt The One You Love”, is more juggled vinyl than the second, coming across like botched Broadway production, all loop-steered on a slippery airfield. Subverting doses of schmaltz with dashes of Dick Dastardly Dragnet(ting-a-ling) and cock-a-doddle-dos, which sounds like I’m making it up — but no — this really is reeling around an unhinged fountain. Slapstick’n’tickling shoulders with automating sinisters of back catalogue riches from NWW’s cutting room floor. What a piece of work! The mind boggles to the amount of raw material involved, it really does, as those fluttering metallics stereo splash into um-pah marching bands, and somewhere within a wide eyed ’50s housewife (maybe one of the pointy-chested ones of the cover) gleefully indulges in some domestic homicide, injecting some necessary darkness into light entertainment.
The second course, “Great Balls Of Fur”, is less judder-forked by comparison. Ooooozing more essential Nurse personality, lots of tasty throws of noise as the guitar wah thrusts forefront followed by the distinctive sourings of Mr Ka-Spel. Lots of David Tibet and Diana Rogerson too – a perfect pairing that dispatches a fine dose of toilet humour in the form of the “Poo-poo Song” (yes, you read that right). Diana swings her vocal thang beautifully as a guitar mangled spangled banner is thrown across the headphones and the piano/horns drag their heels to a garbled monster mash. Think Jim ‘Foetus‘ Thirlwell is in there somewhere, crooning over some carpet beater locomotion fed to the carnivorous fairies of reverb and clatter. Everything slipping’n’sliding on oblique jazzy percussions, a blurred feast through which an intoxicated entertainer croons his sweetheart a letter of goodbye.Now this being a reissue, an extra disc of out-takes is included in the package, eight tracks of unreleased riches that are really good to hear and two handsome remixes that neatly sandwich the bonuses. Matt Waldron’s first up with a curious collage entitled “Cream of Nowhere”, a piece that seduces us in Tropicana woo and the churn of filtering eels. Not a remix as such, more taking the concept to a new level with a clever Burroughs-like cut up of bodily dysfunctions, advertising jingles and Benny Hill-like slap-stickery, all finally landsliding into the slurred manics of some stuttering drum machine.
The eight tracks that follow this are the raw/spare parts for the original album. Works in progress that sound anything but, that present a multitude of ideas and give a fascinating insight into the final patchwork, the process. Tracks that offer up plenty of alternate universes into which Babs could have been propelled.A universe into which Andrew Liles ventures with his “Irregular” around the margins remix that neatly finishes off the second disc in a wah-ha-heaven of stratospheric guitar, its insistent krautness firing on all cannons. A riff-rich zang that elfishly dives into a filter bank of stewed ’60s adverts, over which a carrion-crowed Diana Rogerson circles in hungry spirals obsessively repeating “I want you, I need you”. Action that is quickly picked up on in a slight return to more fucked-up brilliance from the guitar, re-tilted on saxophones and tempo-stretched purr-cushions. An incredible end to a worthy journey. Dirter Promotions, you’ve excelled yourselves here.
-Michael Rodham-Heaps-each little shift, each blurring edit was accompanied with an associated facial twitch or hand movement or leg swap. Tom tried to talk but Kat waved a hand dismissively: “I’d prefer to just listen, if that’s okay?”
“Yeah.” Words stabilised him, of course (off course) but he hang in there, talking himself down when required.
At some point, the record burst in with a “Hello?” and Kat synchronised her lips perfectly. Impressive stuff, especially if she wasn’t lying and this really was her first duel.Sylvie and Babs is a surrealist collage of ’40s/’50s advertising jingles, Spike Jones silliness, slowed down and sped up and screwed exotica and pulp musics alongside scraping gates and hinges and coughs and shrieks and panting and little horn parps and The Shining-style crooners bent out of time and out of tune… it’s very difficult to find a groove, there’s no settling. Tom had heard the record a few times but had no clue what was coming next. He did a mental calculation: this side can’t be more than 20 mins, just have to ride this out and hit her with something unexpected.
Hah. Maybe side two of this…
Five minutes in though and he can’t resist chatting. “You know, he never really was part of the industrial scene… that first record sleeve with the sado-masochism was a bit of a curveball. Not that I’m that sure what a curveball is.”
Would she see through that?
“It’s a type of pitch in baseball-”
“Yeah, I know. I was…”
“…where the ball gets thrown with a characteristic, and difficult to achieve, grip that causes forward spin onto the ball as it’s released which causes it to sort of dive downwards from its initial path as it approaches the batsman according to what is known as the Magnus effect.”Tom sits further back in his chair, trying to get away.
“What is your point?” Kat demands, sitting forward. “That it’s Steven Stapleton’s fault? That he should have known what he was getting into with that gimp mask? That he did know and is now claiming it was some kind of accident? I’m guessing you don’t believe in accidents, Tom?”
“I was making conversation…”
Kat snorts at this. Sees right through him. “Or maybe attempting to add some sex into the air? Trying to distract me, trying to put me off my game? I’m going to win this, Tom, and you know it…”
“Seriously; no… you’re…”
“Being paranoid? I think we’ve all been here before, haven’t we? I’m imagining it, because, well, girls do that don’t they? They hear inflections where none exist, see little moments of doubt in their partners’ eyes when, really, there are no moments of doubt. Ooh, I love this bit… it’s the same backing as that track on Automating Volume 2.”Sylvie and Babs plunders from everything, even itself. He puts years into this (three of them, but who’s counting?) and the attention to detail shows. Meticulous and frivolous, all at once. Maybe this is what Kat is trying to demonstrate by…
“Hang on, this is side two. This is “Great Balls of Fur”. You’ve…” Tom reasserts himself. “We didn’t agree on this. I’m happy with it, if you want it to go along but…”
“Change it, I don’t need favours.”
“I like it.” He picks up the sleeve of microdots from the table. “Shall we have another one, and maybe a beer chaser?”
Kat takes a pill and swallows it dry. “We didn’t agree on beer. I’ll have a vodka and Coke.”
“That’s a deal… Can someone send one over? I don’t want to miss this bit. This is my favourite bit too…”Sylvie and Babs is all slap and tickle. It takes a while to adjust. Like Disneyland, it doesn’t pay to be cynical; you have to go with it. Yes, it’s an act of mutilation, no, it doesn’t make sense except in the pataphysical/surrealist sense (which is the only sense that Nurse With Wound subscribe to). Saying that, there’s a logic to this absurdity that highlights something about the hive of irrationality that came about in the ’50s, where UFOs and Communists were one, where people lived in luxurious fear of total annihilation and where they dipped into the exotic now of Pacific Islands and…
“We should play some real exotica next,” Tom suggested. “Some Les Baxter or Martin Denny.”
“How is this not real exotica?”
The vodka and Cokes arrive. They take a glass each from the barman, who leaves with a smile.
But what does it actually sound like? Well, that’s a complicated one (as you could probably imagine), not because there’s too much going on, but because every listen throws up new untasted joys that you’d swear weren’t there on previous sittings. So I’m going to try to give you a metaphorical flavour, a one-sitting impression – here goes.
He just keeps rolling…
AlongThis is tape, there’s literally bits of tape being thrown around here. If this is intended to boggle at the level of conception as well as the level of sound then… it works. There’s a steely determination throughout this record.
Kat sips her vodka and falls into a kind of a trance, perhaps fake. “The raw material alone, is like a little world. A year in Broadway, full of the hopes and dreams and the fears and the disappointments. The sell-out shows, the drive-ins, the failed slops, the missed jokes, the broken legs…”
Tom takes a quick glance at Alice and Bill (his first), sitting at a table seemingly far away, and then turns back to Kat. “It’s slippery stuff, for sure. But every time you hear it, there’s something new, something’s snuck into the background.”“I used to think this was haunted. My brother had this record originally and when I was young I’d sneak into his room and play it. Would swear it actually did sound different every time. Still not entirely convinced that it doesn’t. It’s beyond weird; it has its own pulse. You just need to… feel it. It can’t be rationalised. Like Hume said, it’s sort of beyond reason.”
“Reason is, and ought only to be, the servant of the passions.”
Kat smiled. “Is that him too? I guess I knew you’d know some. This vodka tastes good. Shall we get another?”
“Beauty is felt, more properly than perceived.”
“Are you coming onto me?”
More vodka. Sylvie and Babs fades away. It’s silent for a good few moments before either of them recognises this.
“I don’t think either of us won that round,” says Kat.