I love The Jesus Lizard. So much so, that choosing their 10 best songs would be like choosing which of my children to save and which ones to throw into a volcano to appease the Sun God.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some of them I wouldn’t save. Half of the album Blue (1998) sounds like they’re doing an impression of themselves. Let’s be honest, I’ve modelled most of my schtick in **Blacklisters **on their vocalist David Yow. In this feature, I’ll try to talk about the others as well; they’re good too, I guess. For me, it’s that the band 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 no surprises in this list. I like the hits and they’re hits for a reason, because they’re the best songs. The clips I’ve chosen are mainly live versions. The records are great, but if you ever get the chance to see a bunch of old men outdoing anyone 30 years their junior, then please go and see The Jesus Lizard. Ranking them from 1 to 10 or 10 to 1 is pretty hard to do, so you’ll just have to imagine that they’re in whatever order you think they should be. Take some responsibility, god damn it.
**SEA SICK (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. I’ve met David Yow twice in my life. Even in his 50s, he’s a better frontman than anyone I’ve ever seen; he is reckless, foolish, dangerous and funny.
**MONKEY TRICK (Goat, 1991) **I think this is my favourite tune – although I’ll probably say that about Mouth Breather and Boilermaker and so on. It 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. For me, 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…’ makes me pull a face like I’m 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) **This is my favourite tune. The drumming in the verses is something else, though. 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 my favourite ever line.
BLOCKBUSTER (Pure, 1989) There’s a great version of this with the 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. The video below is a pretty banging version taken from their compilation album Bang (2000).
THEN ALONG COMES DUDLEY (Goat, 1991) God, I’m about to say the same thing again. 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. If it was me, a mere mortal, I would just sing on all of it and think it sounded great, but The Jesus Lizard 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 is my favourite tune and it opens the Liar album. It’s a hairy, mad hellbent tune which is based on a recipe for a drink. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve started writed 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) **Come on, this song is amazing. The way the band move under Yow’s vocals gets me every time. It gives him freedom to stray, so that when they come together, the impact is there for all to hear. I could sit here for hours debating with myself as to which song should make the list and for what reason. But these 10 songs got me into The Jesus Lizard and shaped the sort of music that Blacklisters make. They opened the doors to all of the other amazing noise rock bands out there. They’re great and so are their songs. Listen.
Blacklisters will release their new album, Adult through Smalltown America later this year. For more information, visit the band’s Facebook page.