When it comes to choosing the 10 best songs from certain bands, the choice can feel akin to choosing which of your children to save and which ones to throw into a volcano to appease the Sun God. The Jesus Lizard are one such band.
Don’t get us wrong – there are definitely some TJL tracks that don't deserve to be saved. Half of the album Blue (1998) sounds like they’re doing an impression of themselves. But from their first EP Pure (1989) to Shot (1996), the majority of their back catalogue was undeniably brilliant. As a band, they manage to combine the aggressive, powerful, stupid and joyful into one thing – and that’s difficult to balance. Yet they do it over and over and over, forever.
There’ll be few surprises in this list; the hits for a reason, and that reason is because they’re the best songs. So here, the tracks which have defined The Jesus Lizard's erratic, eccentric, brilliant career.
Seasick (Goat, 1991)
This pretty much sums up what The Jesus Lizard do. The bass is heavy and relentless, the drums are hard and just sit in the groove and the guitars spider over the top. Then that idiot David Yow smashes about over the top doing what he wants – with his top off. Even in his 50s, Yow is a better frontman than anyone else in the game; he is reckless, foolish, dangerous and funny.
Monkey Trick (Goat, 1991)
This tune ticks all the boxes: it’s sinister and odd and David Wm. Sims’ bass is non-stop. The drums just sit there slapping your cheek over and over, and they pretty much do the same thing all the way through. But this song is better for it. Once again, this lets Yow and Duane Denison just weave over the top, dictating how the song changes. This tune is all about the drop and the production after it; the way the vocals are double-tracked so you can hear all the differences and mistakes. The line, ‘an absurd gag, a monkey trick, an Irish bull, a childish joke…’ will make you pull a face like some sneering drunk, making ‘fuck me’ eyes to no-one in particular, every time without fail.
My Own Urine (Head, 1990)
This is all about the dynamics and the changes of guitar melody – it smashes in with Yow singing ‘I can’t see by your eyes’ and then just meanders off doing whatever. It’s a song about urine.
Mouth Breather (Goat, 1991)
The drumming in the verses of this song is something else. They do this thing where they change up the pattern, halfway through the guitar line. It changes how you hear it. The song is about a guy from Slint flooding Steve Albini’s basement when he was away. True story. Yow sings: ‘Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy. I like him just fine… but he’s a mouth breather’ and it’s maybe the best line ever.
Blockbuster (Pure, 1989)
There’s a great version of this with Melvins on their Cry Baby album (1999), but the recording of this one on Pure is pretty poor – it’s quiet. This was recorded before they got an actual drummer and just used the Big Black Roland drum machine method. Blockbuster is great example of how to write a song that just builds and doesn’t ever quite get to the money shot; it just stirs the tension over and over and it’s all the better for it.
Then Comes Dudley (Goat, 1991)
This song's all about the relentless bass, solid drumming, spidery guitar and those idiotic vocals. This is their formula but it’s magic. The way they drop out and add different guitar lines gives this song even more impact. It’s on another level. The trick with The Jesus Lizard is that they know when not to do things: when to play a verse without vocals or when not to have guitar for a minute and half, so that when those things come back in, they sound 100 times better than they did before.
Gladiator (Liar, 1992)
This song has pretty much the same riff from start to finish. The bass and drums pummel endlessly and there’s no sign of them letting up. They change up the verses with different drums, different vocals, different guitar – but they keep coming back to the same riff. Like loads of Shellac tunes, it just shows what you can do with just one basic idea. How many different ways can you play it? Can we just play this until it’s finished? Yes, you can.
Boilermaker (Liar, 1992)
This tune opens the Liar album. It’s a hairy, mad, hellbent tune which is based on a recipe for a drink. As a musician, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve started writing a song and I’ll have a great opening rhythm for my vocal. I’ll sing it out loud and it’ll go something like ‘I’ll calm down’ like in Boilermaker – then I’ll hate myself and think about a career as a magician’s assistant, sequins and all.
Bloody Mary (Pure, 1989)
Bloody Mary is great. The Jesus Lizard have four different sorts of songs. They have fast and raucous, they have grinding tunes with that incredible bass and drum sound. Then they’ve got dark, sprawling spacey tunes like Zachariah and Pastoral with out-of-tune singing. Then they’ve got songs like Bloody Mary with their spoken word lyrics and winding guitar lines. Duane Denison’s riffs seem to sprawl out over the verses before they get tight and hard, closing into a fist. It’s like getting stroked and then punched, and so on…
The Art Of Self-Defense (Liar, 1992)
This song is amazing. The way the band move under Yow’s vocals gives him freedom to stray, so that when they come together, the impact is there for all to hear. We could sit here for hours debating as to which songs should make this list and for what reason, but these 10 songs are the songs which made The Jesus Lizard the massively influential band they became. They opened the doors to all of the other amazing noise rock bands out there. They’re great and so are their songs. Listen.