Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Bodychoke - Five Prostitutes

Rarely have songs about dominating, killing and/or mutilating women been as lovingly rendered or intensely dramatic as in the work of Bodychoke. The brainchild of Kevin Tomkins and Paul Taylor, perhaps better known as the noise outfit Sutcliffe Jügend, Bodychoke were active in the UK from 1993-1999, releasing three very good albums in that time.

These three records - 94's Mindshaft and 96's Five Prostitutes both on the late, great Freek Records; 98's Cold River Songs, originally on Purity and then reissued last year on Relapse to some belated recognition - represent a dark and intriguing version of rock, with thick bass and thin drums, guitars that make noises and hum and drone and feedback, cello of all things (!!), and two singers who run the gamut from whispering to yelling and even sing and harmonize.

Bodychoke songs can be short or long, eerily quiet or frighteningly loud. Some sound like they'd go down smashingly at a big stadium show, if you know what I mean -- heavy capital-R Rock, with clean production and catchy riffs. Most of the lyrical content, certainly on Five Prostitutes (a reference to the five women killed by Jack the Ripper), is along the lines aforementioned: power electronics chanting of the Whitehouse variety (indeed, Tomkins was a member of Whitehouse) applied to rock and noise rock style compositions, frequently played as a dirge. Only The Brainbombs do it better - though Bodychoke, I would say, often possess a tang of regret in their rants absent in the swinging Swedes' own songbook.

I like all three Bodychoke records (I haven't heard the demos collection Completion yet). Their first record Mindshaft might be the best place to start, as these are perhaps Bodychoke's 'catchiest' tunes. Many folks will tell you that their final record Cold River Songs is the band's greatest work, represents Bodychoke at the apex of their powers or some such, and it is a fine album, no doubt. Personally though, I'm a sucker for bloated records where the weirder ideas didn't get thrown away, and I guess that would have to be the band's second album, Five Prostitutes, the record I bring you today.

It starts off with a bunch of shorter rockers, catchy punchy songs like "The Delivery Man" or "Hole", before "I Can't Wait" - with its downright delicate creepiness ("I can't wait to see you crawling away") - lets you know this is no Amphetamine Reptile-type noise rock. And a lot of folks will likely bolt at the scent of such gothy melodrama. But stick around and be rewarded with the building mania of "Skinflick" or the dubby dérive of "Sperm Burner". "Head In A Jar" is almost a nursery rhyme it's so catchy.

After that, things start getting very strange. It's kind of incredible how mainstream a lot of Bodychoke's songs sound, but every once in awhile there's something like "Anyway You Want It", which uses alternating silences and screeching bits to build up a very effective atmosphere, and doesn't really begin to resemble a 'song' as such until it's almost over. And then it's like getting punched in the kidney. This is hard, physical rock pummelling.

"Anal" strikes me as oddly homoerotic, which I doubt was the intention, and in that it does ring slightly silly to these ears. "Cripple" too seems slightly off somehow, trying too hard or something, not striking the right tone, satirical. As to "How Much Can You Take", the first time I heard this record I LOL at its po-faced sadism ("you're not supposed to fucking enjoy it", wails Tomkins), but it holds up better on repeated listenings, and that is some great noise there towards the end.

And speaking of ends, has any record ever had a heavier ending than "The Red Sea"? This beast of a closer, clocking in at over 15 minutes, is really quite a singular achievement, a pounding, relentless monster that will melt your fuzzy face off if you play it loud enough. Did I mention Steve Albini recorded this?

RESOUND: You recorded your second album, "Five Prostitutes" with Steve Albini. In addition to being a great recording engineer he's quite a character. Any anecdotes from those sessions?

KT: This is probably pretty uncool, but we were all singing “Have you ever seen a fully grown man naked” in various styles from Opera to Country and Western and Dr Doolittle, he was more than happy to join in.

Bodychoke - Five Prostitutes

This is now selling used on Amazon for $163!?!!

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