When I was eight years old, my mother bought me Grumpy Bear. Much as I adored him, more often than not the sulking blue plush would find itself launched at the slammed door in a fit of temper. Thus I came to associate that sort of frowny pout both with catharsis and the incorrigible urge to hug the bear-er.
JG Thirlwell has long inspired both, and his last Foetus album proper, LOVE, collected the sort of woobie anthems that bring out the Elmyra Fudd in the best of us. I think it’s a girl thing: when Bethesda Game Studios introduced us to the “god of madness” in Shivering Isles, the boys revelled in the darkly-comic horror while the girls developed mad crushes on Sheogorath (who bore such a resemblance to Thirlwell in its predecessor, Daggerfall). Foetus could be the soundtrack to that bipolar realm. It’s mood swing music in a way that is intensely soothing to us and alienatingly overbearing to everyone else: intense, vibrant, dark and moody, unforgettably beautiful, and sometimes bloody horrifying.
Of course, HIDE sounds crap on paper – the sort of spectacularly pretentious description (opera singers? Latin?) that would in most circumstances provoke you to roll your eyes and reach instead for something by Disturbed. Then again, a) all-time classics by Led Zep and Queen were just as inherently silly and b) Lydia Lunch collaborations aside, Thirlwell’s never made a bad record.
On first listen, HIDE sounds like a combination of three of my all-time favourite albums: Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Levitation’s Need For Not and Cardiacs’ On Land and in the Sea. It has Floyd’s sense of scale, Cardiacs’ dramatic eccentricity and Levitation’s creeping, insistent paranoia. Even the sleeve art for HIDE echoes the Illuminati symbolism of Levitation’s underrated opus, but of the three, the closest parallels have to be drawn with Cardiacs. Sure, Thirlwell’s outlook is much gloomier than Smith’s, but each has inspired countless popular acts while remaining perversely ignored, except by an adoring base of lifelong devotees. Listening to HIDE tells me that, like Cardiacs, I’m going to love Foetus for the rest of my life.
Cosmetics kicks off with the famed opera bit, Abby Fischer belting out phased multitracked lines before crashing into the sort of shamelessly overblown classical-rock song that people from Norway are so keen on, if only it didn’t keep getting bored of the current time signature and bounding off in another direction. It’s the sort of music Mike Patton really ought to be making … except now we’ve got creepy robot vocals to back up the operatic warble and … wait! What the F***?! Did he just throw bhangra into the mix?
Just as we’re thinking HIDE is a natural succcessor to the glorious, punishing noise of GASH, Paper Slippers shows us Foetus’s sweet side. It’s a lovely blend of the Beatles’ Day In The Life and Floyd’s Us and Them, though the distorted guitars and drums put me in mind of OK Computer.