Fat Axl: Silverfish's Fat Painted Carcass of Rock
"Run here my towhead grandchillin, and let this geezer dandle you upon his knee. You know the gong has tolled, it's that time again. Now let me set my old brain aruminatin'..."
-Lester Bangs 'Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung'
Remember when things were angry? I mean, really angry. Not today's standard of angry, where a hot button topic is determined by positioning on a Facebook scroll; scroll down, stumble on a trigger word like pussy, get angry (because no one has ever used the word pussy before, ever) and then, as if the most pure strain of ADHD is coursing through your system, you shift from red, back through the varying shades, until you omit a nice, tranquil, passive green, as the offending word disappears from your feed hopefully forever. Phew! That was a close one. My randomly chosen sensibility for the day was almost ready to start bombarding like-minded people's timelines with today's outrage flavour.
Today's standard of angry is pathetic, isn't it? What I'm talking about, is when things were really angry, back before the luxury of anonymity turned potential activists into fat, soft, vinegar-titted expressionists with no actual semblance of a spine whatsoever. They're one shade away from the ultimate yellow; the only thing yellower is the colour of the bile that spews forth from their keyboards on a semi-regular, when-they-can-be-bothered basis.
In my day children, angry was turning up to a sticky carpet gig, drunk and toxed out on glue and petrol fumes, with breath wreaking of stale cigarette's, anonymous cock, and a half-chewed hot dog you found in the gutter. Flannelette shirt tied around your waist, safety pins holding your stain monument jeans together and a face like a funeral, you elbow your way through the crowd to the stage, just so you can spit on your favourite performer. There was no moshing, it's called slamming motherfucker, and we didn't jump onto the stage to be closer to the band, fuck that. We pummelled through security to get onstage to be the fucking band. We'd run around on stage avoiding the bouncers like an over 18's Tom & Jerry cartoon. And the fat fucks would never catch us either, 'cos we'd be back in that crowd so fucking fast, that those slow IQ'd buffoons would have no idea what hit 'em. And if you didn't leave the venue with broken bones and a blood nose, well my friend, you were a PUSSY!
Before the Grunge explosion, before it was cool to worship Nick Cave, before the hipster movement forced flannelette shirt prices into the stratosphere of retail fickledom, there was a band called Silverfish. The savage UK based Indie Noise outfit possessed all the grunt and obnoxiousness of Grunge, all the junkie-chic and avant-garde of Nick Cave's Birthday Party, and enough venom and self esteem to be able to pull off wearing a five buck flannie. Live, they were vicious; fucking vicious. Cowering in the midst of a sloth of hungry bears wielding chainsaws and spitting razor blades would be less vicious. The pure volume, drive and sheer animal magnetism the band oozed, meant that as a member of an unsuspecting crowd, one was left in a state of shell shock.
Kicking out their chops in Camden's Lurch Scene dive bars, Silverfish were victims of their own time and geographical location. Having to compete with world-storming, yet utterly dull Acid House and Manchester Scene acts like Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, meant that Silverfish were out of time before time ever got started. The rock world was already starting to soften, with Cock Rock running its course (thank the lord), and newer Grunge acts like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains still cutting their teeth on the lamest of chew toys on the market at the time. A different location, a different era, maybe Silverfish wouldn't need to pop up in obscure albums specials across the interwebs.
"If Silverfish were from New York, we'd be mad for them, of course."
Fat Axl is brutal. There's really nothing more to say. Scottish-born singer Lesley Rankine is one hell of a rock bitch (I can say that, I know she wouldn't mind), growling, screaming and gargling her way through a collection of songs that kind of resemble jazz, sort of resemble punk and gothic doom, and cryptically resemble hip-hop and death metal, without really resembling anything at all. On stage she's a fucking beast dynamo. Trolling and prowling the stage like a run-over cat, she baits the audience into one-on-one headbang and stare competitions, while spitting spite-fueled lyrics across the wave of stunned heads and fleeing Brit-Poppers.
Rankine's live vocal rasp transfers seamlessly onto vinyl, with the album kickers Pink 'n' Lovely, Fat Painted Carcass, and the slow-burner Harry Butcher, beating the listener into a soft submission; almost a hollow victory for the protagonists. It's only after those first 3 tracks that you're rendered torn, pulped and tenderised. That's when you're ripe for the picking. That's when Silverfish get ya. That's when you're Shit Out of Luck.
Did you ever have that dream where you're falling infinitely into a bottomless pit? It's dark, claustrophobic... and you're fucking falling! The only thing that snaps you out of it, the one thing that wakes you up, is that sudden shuddering jolt that rides through your body as if to say, Hey! Motherfucker! Wake up! You're fucking falling! You know, that dream? That's what the Shit Out of Luck/White Lines segue is; your dream shuddering wake-up call.
Drummer Stuart Watson's snare is the quintessential beat of the traps. If his snare was actually replaced with a bear trap (sorry about all the bear analogies), I would defy anybody to even notice the difference. The toothy grip that Watson's fearsome crack grasps on your very soul is enough to make Chuck Norris weep and join a sewing circle.
The driving, almost Touch and Go influenced bass thump perpetrated by Chris Mowforth is up there with the greatest bass powerviolence proponents of all time; David Wm. Sims of The Jesus Lizard, Tracy Pew of The Birthday Party, and Kevin Strickland of Laughing Hyenas, such is the stalking menace of the Grandmaster Flash cover, White Lines intro.
If you own the vinyl copy of Fat Axl, that's where side-A ends. You're lucky. Take a breather. Have a hit of ventolin and charge yourself with Grandma's defibrillator, because side two not only promises more of the same stand and delivery, it ramps it up a notch with the searing 2 Marines. If you own the CD or Mp3 copy, and your pause button is faulty, then may God have mercy on your soul.
2 Marines hurts. There's no doubt about it. Listening to 2 Marines is the musical equivalent of the pain and irritability a plank of wood must feel as it's being power-planed; it's just that non-caring and minimising. The scattergun combination of Rankine's electric rant, and scuzzaphonic guitar of Andrew Duprey is irresponsible, bordering on horrifying. It's 3 minutes of not knowing what's happening, being trapped in a blender and minced into a meat smoothie. It's fantastic!
"Listening to Silverfish is tantamount to the most fist-fuckingly savage orgy of self-degradation imaginable. Imagine yourself riddled with Gonorrhea, but it still feels good to piss."
-Benjamin Munday (Editor, The Low Road)
The ominous Spoon follows and, judging from Watson's jazz-saturated snare/cymbal intro, appears to be a much revered time out. Well, it ain't. Things are just warming up. Now, you're entering the apocalypse. Rankine kicks off proceedings with a simple request: Don't be dumb, give me a gun, buy me a gun, I wanna kill somebody. Fair enough too. Who's gonna argue?
Actually, Spoon, despite its predatory overtones, is quite a sophisticated song. Each verse builds to an ultimately serial killer climax, leaving the listener tense and full of rage, but come the chorus, the fiery but equally melodic refrain is both cathartic and potentially world-saving. It brings things back to Earth. It's the classic pop sensibility of catch and release; verse, chorus, verse. Tighten, loosen, tighten. It's what made Nirvana so great, and what brought about their downfall. I'm not even sure if Silverfish knew that they were even doing it at the time, but if any track on Fat Axl preempts the commercial grunge movement, it's this one. Maybe they're to blame? ;-)
The most Birthday Party inspired tune, one that could easily have been written by the maestro Mick Harvey himself, is Baby Baby Baby. The track is one glorious nod to one of the band's major influences, referencing the derelict trailblazers with an inverted Dead Joe bassline, a Harvey drum clinic, and the best impersonation of Rowland S. Howard's fingernails on blackboard guitar screech I've witnessed to this very date.
The closer, and longest track on the album, is the irrepressible ode to gay Nazi bondage, Ich Bin Ein/Schaften Trauser. Continuing the Birthday Party nod, Duprey's bleeding intro splinters the genitals, sounding more like a derailing train than a 6 stringed instrument. For a near 6-minute song though, it still grunts along as well as any other Fat Axl track, coming to an end with a bang, and an expectant glance at the listener; are you dead yet?
Fat Axl is the last record of its type, and possibly the definitive precursor to what became the magnificent Riot Grrrl movement. It has a sound that is often imitated, but rarely duplicated. Transcending many scenes, it now sits proudly in tasteful collections across the planet, sitting comfortably next to obscure late 80's Adelaide noise bands, and arty New York avant acts alike.
Besides, chicks that head-bang are sexy.
*To listen to Silverfish's Fat Axl in full, click here.