J.G. Thirlwell – aka Foetus, was a major player in the underground scene of the 1980s. In conjunction with others such as Lydia Lunch, Genesis P. Orridge, Coil, and The Hafler Trio, Foetus defined the bleeding edge of confrontational music during those “Family Values” days. While Robert Mapplethorpe and “Piss Christ” artist Andres Serrano had the Bush One-era NEA screaming for mercy, Foetus and his contemporaries seemed to provide the soundtrack.
Thirlwell’s use of samples, hand tools, traditional instruments, and the drum machine produced such classics as Ache, by You’ve Got Foetues On Your Breath (1982), and Nail from Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel (1985). By the mid-nineties the movement was largely played out. This may have been due to the less morally hysterical tone of the Clinton presidency, or to the fact that we were dealing with the far more dangerous Spice Girls. In any event, Thirlwell is probably best known today as the musical force behind the subversive Venture Bros. on Cartoon Network.
Hide is the first new Foetus album since Love (2005). Thirlwell describes it as a “Neo-symphonic avant-psychedelic concept album.” The term neo-symphonic certainly applies to the opening nine-minute opus “Cosmetics.” This is definitely music of grandeur, but with Thirlwell one can never be sure what his intentions are. It is a glorious way to open up an album, but the Wagnerian overtones are so strongly stated that one wonders if it is meant to be taken seriously or not.
In contrast, the psychedelic “Paper Slippers” is not at all ambiguous. The song itself is addressed to a person who is about to be committed. The music recalls that of the original Crazy Diamond, Syd Barrett. “You Stood Me Up” is Thirlwell working in full Venture Bros. mode. It is soundtrack music in the extreme, full of ridiculously overstated strings and bombast, underscoring the tragedy of being stood up for a date.
“Concrete” is an example of the artist working in the nearly forgotten Musiq Concrete genre, a form that John Cage perfected many years ago. “The Ballad Of Sisyphus T. Jones” hearkens back to the Foetus of old. The song mixes his trademark harsh elements with a nod toward the classic spaghetti western sounds of Sergio Leone.
Another “classic” Foetus piece is “Youre Trying To Break Me.” The overt vocal reference to The Residents in the opening segment of the tune make perfect sense for a musician as uncompromisingly experimental as Foetus. “O Putrid Sun” closes out this dispatch in a suitably maudlin way, the composer posing as director one last time.
Fans who have been wondering what happened to the musical terrorist Foetus should be heartened by Hide. Like all of his best work, it is a CD that keeps you guessing all the way through. Downloads are available at various sites, but physical copies are available exclusively at www.foetus.org.