Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Butthole Surfers

  • Butthole Surfers [Alternative Tentacles EP, 1983] A-
  • Live Pcppep [Alternative Tentacles EP, 1984] B
  • Psychic . . . Powerless . . . Another Man's Sac [Touch and Go, 1985] B+
  • Rembrandt Pussyhorse [Touch and Go, 1986] B-
  • Pioughd [Rough Trade, 1991] *
  • Independent Worm Salon [Capitol, 1993] A-
  • Electriclarryland [Capitol, 1996] Neither

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Butthole Surfers [Alternative Tentacles EP, 1983]
Unlike most horror-show hardcore, their tales from the crypt eschew the reassuring glow of celluloid, yet they don't smudge like pulp, either. For openers a guy comes on and shrieks, "There's a time to fuck and a time to crave/But the shah sleeps in Lee Harvey's grave." Then there's a lot of guitar noise. More axioms: "Jimi Hendrix makes love to Marilyn's remains," "I smoke Elvis Presley's [ed.: not Costello's?] toenails when I want to get high," etc. More guitar noise. As nihilist grossout goes, pretty neat and impossible by definition to sustain. Yet sustain it they do, not because necro-copro is such a powerful idea, but because the guitar noise crests and roils like a river of shit--because, though I hate to put it this way, there are actually songs down there. Rarely has such demented caterwaul reached vinyl in recognizable form. A-

Live Pcppep [Alternative Tentacles EP, 1984]
At first I detected an emotional power signifying something more than an arty posthardcore band whose outrageousness was truly original. But soon I noticed that one of the three new songs--striking statistic in a band whose recorded output comprises two longish EPs--was a noise interlude. So now I'm wondering whether they mightn't be an original posthardcore band whose outrageousness is truly arty, or whose emotional power is truly a fake. Oh well--at least they'll evolve toward big-beat no wave (performance art?) rather than heavy metal. B

Psychic . . . Powerless . . . Another Man's Sac [Touch and Go, 1985]
Truly repulsive music imposes the most stringent of aesthetic standards--who wants to listen if it's just good? So while I'm sort of impressed by the (relative) accessibility of their first full-length LP--guitar that might actually win over some wayward metal freak seeking X-rated thrills--I must report that only "Lady Sniff," punctuated by perfectly timed gobs, pukes, farts, belches, and Mexican radio, lives up to "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave." B+

Rembrandt Pussyhorse [Touch and Go, 1986]
I respect these guys, really--their dedication to dementia is a rare and wondrous thing. But their claque's idea of accessibility is Iron Butterfly on bad acid digging deconstruction, yet another version of the touching avant-garde truism which holds that the proper study of incoherence is incoherent. Upped a notch or two for concept, attitude, hype, bullshit, somewhere in there. B-

Pioughd [Rough Trade, 1991]
beyond noisome ("Lonesome Bulldog") *

Independent Worm Salon [Capitol, 1993]
With closet M.B.A. Gibby Haynes t.c.b., their freak show has always had more P.T. Barnum than Salvador Dali in it, and more Salvador Dali than Swamp Dogg. All John Paul Jones does is improve their entertainment value. Channeling horrible noise into runaway power riffs, they maintain a style of momentum reminiscent of Gibby's sometime collaborators in Ministry--messier, which is their calling card, but not that much messier. With nuttier jokes, too. A fun-loving guy, Gibby. A-

Electriclarryland [Capitol, 1996] Neither