Lick It (Recess)
by Mick Altamont
Dwarves. San Francisco transplants via Chicago. What you get here is two expansive collections giving insight into two phases in the career of a uniquely American experience. Backpedal with me if you will… You don’t really go anywhere, but you don’t have to work to get there, so quit your griping.
Lick It is everything right on up to the Horror Stories LP. What it plays like is blacklight fractured genius. Part Nuggets adulation, a healthy dose of Cramps style un-repentant psychosis, all lathered with helpings of oozing sexual whatsis. This one’s got thirty-four flavors so it’s kinda tough picking particular stand-outs. “I’m A Living Sickness” starts with a sinister farfisa drone atop sustained guitar feedback that carries throughout with Blag’s reverb-drenched vocals bellowing beneath the muck. Other great moments include the title track, “Lick It” which is, in essence, a prototype riff for what would become “Detention Girl” on Blood Guts and Pussy some six years later. “Oozle” also sports some nifty farfisa work. Imagine Monoman in the grips of some drug-induced seizure sitting in on the session. Yes, it’s that good. “Mined Expanders,” “Underwater,” “Average Dick,” “Love Makes Me a Monster” and a dozen or so others make this my late night companion of choice.
Everyone wants to make such a fuss about the transformation these guys made from psych to punk, but it’s really more like stepping over cracks than jumping chasms. I mean, there’re plenty of glances towards the future here to clue anyone in as to what was coming. What sets Lick It above the other volume is sheer inspiration and an obvious love of the music. There’re a couple covers here, but if you wanna know which ones they are, better ask Mr. Sarre cuz he’s the walking book of Rock knowledge, Jack – I’m just a fellow provided enough rope with which to practice my syntax strangulation. So let’s keep swinging.
Unfortunately, things don’t fair quite so well on Free Cocaine ’86-’88. You get nearly forty cuts here, and whereas on Lick It the variety is as exciting as it is overwhelming, here the mass of tunes serves only to weight everything down with a sense of sameness. The best stuff is right up front as it kicks off with the Lucifers Crank EP, originally released on the No. 6 label. Essentially super-hopped versions of Toolin For A Warm Teabag. Free Cocaine is just such a great slice of decadence, it stands as a monument to culture. Truly brilliant. Equally stunning is “Lesbian Nun” from one of the Dope, Guns and Fucking in the Streets comps. “She’s Dead” and “Fukhead” comprised the Sub-Pop seven inch of 1988. I saw the Dwarves at this point, right before Blood Guts and Pussy was released. Two minutes into what would turn out to be a scorching fifteen minute set, Blag’s got his pants down around his ankles ending every song with his classic war cry, “I’m gonna fuck you up, then I’m going to get high.” True to form, not halfway into the show he jumps out into the audience and mauls this poor kid. Equal parts sexual feel-up and good old-fashioned ass-kicking. I walked away that night unsure of what had actually transpired. Pure genius? Pure shit? In punk rock, distinctions can get pretty convoluted, and in most cases are as necessary as a third foot. One thing I was sure of, I was glad I wasn’t that poor kid.
The confusing thing to me here is how apparently they’re restrained by the confines of punk rock. What an oxymoron, right? When they traded in the reckless glee of the psychedelic era for the sneer and stance of the punk aesthetic, the mold sort of broke the band. The fake death publicity stunt of guitar player HeWhoCanNotBeNamed in 1992 solidified my belief that here truly was a band that had run out of ideas. It backfired on them anyway, and soon enough the risen dead were back in the fold and the beast went on.
All in all, Recess did a great job with these two collections, although some insight via liner notes would’ve benefited the whole. Start with the first one and you won’t be disappointed. You may want to stop after the first one, but if you feel like strapping a battering ram to your freakin’ head, do it – strap the second one on, just keep a bottle of Rominal on hand to deal with the consequences. And for God’s sake don’t pick them scabs.
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