Flash Metal Suicide: Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction's Hoodlum Thunder

Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction, 1987
Zodiac Mindwarp, with his Love Reaction, in 1987
(Image: © Andy Willsher \/ Getty Images)

I spent more on this record than on any other one I ever bought. I paid $35 USD for the “import” CD in 1991. Factoring in inflation, that’s like $70 in 2016 dollars. But I was happy to do it because I believed in Zodiac Mindwarp AKA Mark Manning more than I ever believed in anybody, including my parents and Jesus. And for good reason.

Unlike them, he never let me down. I mean, he did sorta fuck me on this record, but up to this point, the Love Reaction releases were an untouchable holy trinity – the Wild Child single, the High Priest of Love EP and the Tattooed Beat Messiah album. Nothing comes close to those records, they are the highest of the high and the coolest of the cool, the grooviest and gravy-est and flashiest of all flash metal records, now and forever, amen.

Manning formed the Love Reaction in 1985 with the dude from The Orb, and in the early days the band was lumped in with the “Grebo” movement, which was some made up bullshit that I still love but don’t understand (also Grebo: Gaye Bykers on Acid, Crazyhead, Bomb Party, Pop Will Eat Itself).

The Wild Child single introduced the world to the Love Reaction in 1986. A swirling psychedelic metal monster full of flamboyant chest-thumpery and all manner of sleazy rock’n’roll excess, it set the stage for High Priest of Love a few months later. A throbbing, horny monster of an EP, High Priest crawled hand over gnarled fist to the top of the UK indie charts and paved the wild highway for the band’s debut album. Forget the UK, man. They already had that sewn up. In 1988, the Love Reaction wanted the world. And with Tattooed Beat Messiah, they nearly got it.

It is in no way revisionist history when I tell you that Tattooed Beat Messiah was the dividing line between us and them, with Poison and Bon Jovi and Motley Crue on one side and Circus of Power, Warrior Soul, Monster Magnet and White Zombie on the other. The cool kids knew the score. Punks liked Zod, so did the goths. Thrashers and smashers were down with the Love Reaction, too. They represented something hipper, deeper, more cosmic than the standard party metal bullshit that ruled the day.

Zodiac Mindwarp was created by underground comics and sexploitation movies and beat poetry and Detroit rock’n’roll and American cop shows from the 1970’s. Sure man, Mark Manning went to art school and was a rock journalist before he was a rock star and was probably smarter than he pretended to be, but even though the whole band was a ruse, an art project gone awry, it was still more authentic than anything else at the time. Zodiac Mindwarp told the truth, even when he lied. And he lied all the time. But he also wrote Prime Mover, the most effective rock’n’roll song since Kick Out the Jams or The Rocker. And he dressed like evil biker Jesus, and his band looked like the most dangerous people in the world.

There’s grainy VHS footage floating around of the Love Reaction’s first gig, you should check it out sometime, it’s an eye-popper. You can see the whole script unfurl, right from the beginning. They seem like actual criminals up there, real-life reprobates, out on bail before their next ruinous misadventure, and the ugly, bleating, unwieldy noise they make is, in fact, hoodlum thunder personified. And within a couple years, they went from actual criminals to actual Rock Gods. That’s Bad Magic, man. The kind you just can’t get anymore. The hoodwink had worked. The records sold, Z’s face was plastered on the covers of magazines, the Love Reaction toured America with Guns N’ Roses. Groupies were groped and arenas were rocked. Mark Manning’s art school rock’n’roll fantasy came to roaring, squealing life, and now he had to live with his hideous creation. But how could he top Tattooed Beat Messiah? He was never gonna write another Prime Mover. We couldn’t handle another Prime Mover, even if he did.

And see, that’s the thing. Manning had only written the script until 1988. I’m assuming he figured he’d just be dead by ‘89. Or he’d join the KLF or something. Either way, he found himself in the unenviable task of trying to top an album that probably won’t be topped for another thousand years. And he had fucking problems, man. The band got dumped by Phonogram, they were broke and left for dead and the only label that was sign them for a deal was some no-count South African outfit called Musidisc. Which meant, unless you wanted to throw down a couple day’s pay for an import, you wouldn’t even know it existed. And honestly, that might be for the best. The only bright spot on Hoodlum Thunder is Feed My Frankenstein, and Z had already sold that one to Alice Cooper. I mean, have you heard Elvis Died For You? Jesus Christ, Manning. The cat had lost the plot.

It’s ok, he eventually redeemed himself with some hilarious and alarming memoirs (Bad Wisdom, Fucked By Rock) and a decade down the road he got the band back together for some back-to-basics albums (I Am Rock, Rock Savage, We Are Volsung) that rocked as hard as you’d hope. And he’s still my hero. And yours too, if you know what’s up.

But I still kinda want my $35 back.

Next week: Identity Crisis

School: Zodiac Mindwarp