Graded on a Curve:
The Jesus Lizard,
Goat

The Golden Age of American Noise Rock (which this historian situates between the late 1980s and early 1990s) was a grand time to be a pervert. Bands like Cows, Killdozer, Halo of Flies, and the Melvins were spreading clamor, ugliness, and moral depravity across the land, and if you were like me you were as happy as a pig in shit.

Austin, Texas’ The Jesus Lizard were celebrated (and critically acclaimed) mainstays on the noise rock circuit, and they personified all of the best (worst?) aspects of the genre. Outré and outright revolting subject matter? Check. A relentlessly pounding sound designed to make mush of your cerebral cortex? Check. Deranged live performances featuring a psychotic lead singer? Check.

That said, The Jesus Lizard were never my favorites; indeed, I never had much use for ‘em at all. No, I was a Cows and Killdozer guy. The bugle-playing and unhinged live antics of Shannon Selberg set Cows high above the noise rock throng, while Michael Gerald’s demented (and highly literate) storytelling and Mouse Who Roared vocals, which were set atop a deep rototiller groove, made Killdozer the blackly hilarious piece of heavy machinery ever to steamroll human ears.

But The Jesus Lizard have their charms, and they’re on full display on 1991’s Goat. Produced by the ubiquitous Steve Albini, Goat is loud, pummeling, and chockfull of sordid lyrical content that is guaranteed to leave you feeling slightly queasy. Case in point: the run amok “Lady Shoes,” on which David Yow channels unholy voices while telling a simply horrifying tale involving a masturbating daddy, a homicidal maternity ward nurse, and a doctor who takes a shit in his own hand and then applies it as lipstick. It’s a real crack-up.

The gaits vary on Goat, but I’m a sucker for the trotters myself; the crawling “Then Comes Dudley” is all menacing guitar riff and “When the Levee Breaks” drumming and certainly has its awful lures (sample lyric: “If it had a face I won’t eat it, he said”), but when push comes to shove I prefer the jet-propelled “Mouth Breather” (insane romp about said same) and the driving, amputee inquisitive “Nub” (“Hey man, say man have you/Been rubbin’ your nub?”).

Yow is both down in the mouth and confused on the down by the seaside lament “Seasick”: “I can’t swim, I can swim” he sings over and over, but he sounds like a man who’s going under. “Monkey Trick” is another foray into mid-tempo territory and quite nice, but I wish the story line added up; other than the fact that there are body parts all over town, I have no idea what Yow’s going on about. That said, he does a very fine imitation of a man who belongs in a locked psychiatric ward.

“South Mouth” is a hard-charger straight from the incestuous swamps of the deep south, where “Sometimes we act like animals/Like we act sometimes like little girls.” “Do I have to ask ya to cut the cackle?” sings Yow, and it’s enough to make your skin crawl.

As for the go nowhere slow “Rodeo in Juliet,” the dead wind of a tempo is apropos; turns out there is no rodeo in Juliet, and “the sky and the dirt share the same, same grey, grey.” Pity there’s no story attached; Michael Gerald would have placed a couple of real losers in said setting and let ‘em do something really creatively stupid and self-destructive, like get drunk and burn their balls off with a blowtorch on a bet.

Goat is a perfectly representative LP by a perfectly representative example of an American noise rock band, but it lacks–at least in this guy’s opinion–that divine spark of berserker inspiration that keeps me coming back to Cows and Killdozer.

With Shannon Selberg you’re in the presence of a bona fide lunatic; with Michael Gerald you’re in the presence of a born writer who took note of every lurid detail of small town Wisconsin life and turned them into blackly hilarious vignettes of moral and mental decay. As he told me once, “They say write what you know, and what I knew were idiots.”

Despite the ravings and jabbering of Yow, The Jesus Lizard strike a slightly more anonymous and monochrome note. By all accounts their live shows were unglued affairs, and perhaps if I’d seen ‘em in person my opinion of their records would be somewhat higher. It would also help (a lot) if I could understand what Yow’s shrieking about without having to consult a lyric sheet.

That said, Goat is one ugly animal, and will make the perfect X-Mas or Hanukkah gift for that niece or nephew who shows every sign of taking a very wrong turn in life.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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