As Neil Young cogently observed in punk's wake, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." The Butthole Surfers, one of the more anarchic units to Econoline across America in the 1980s, seemed prime candidates for the former. After all, Buttholes singer Gibby Haynes did share a room in rehab with Kurt Cobain just before the grunge star became a martyr for a trend he probably wished he had never helped create. On the other hand, in the five years since the last Buttholes release, Electric Larryland, one might have wondered if the pride of Texas punk had been eclipsed by time and the current climate of commercial pandering.
Don't bet on a fast burn or a slow fade. Weird Revolution, the band's aptly titled new release, is like a breath of fresh air in this musically stale era. Wait, make that twin lungfuls of nitrous oxide spiked with helium. It's a work of bizarre yet ardent genius that plays like a hallucinogenic fever dream -- equally entertaining, disturbing, delightful and revelatory. There's nothing even in the same universe as a dull moment in this listening experience. One can hear trip-hop, hip-hop, electronica, punk, funk, metal and shards of pop music within this wild musical kingdom, but just listing the elements hardly does justice to the achievement. In the same way that Jackson Pollock splashed paint on canvas to create artistic Rorschach tests, the album twists, shifts and recombines musical conventions to create something startling yet oddly satisfying.
Without intending to do so, the Butthole Surfers may have created a fitting soundtrack for the chaotic and confusing post-September 11 world, with the track "Jet Fighter" sounding ominously prescient. Weird Revolution is the sound of modernity on a crash course, and the view along the way is like some manic march of musical time played at triple speed. This is the real sort of punk rock consciousness that has been AWOL for far too long.
All this augurs well for the first Buttholes tour of the new millennium. Given the anarchic thrills the band can create live, and the foundation offered by the new album as well as the band's past work, the show promises to be an experience indeed. Haynes warns of this new outing, "Expect nothing, so that anything will make you happy." Don't believe his anti-hype. Hey hey, my my, maybe punk rock hasn't died.
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