To describe Armand Schaubroeck as over the top hardly does him justice. This incredible independent-recording oddball began his musical career in the mid-’60s, after a prison stay (he was convicted of grand larceny). Although his subsequent livelihood has resulted from a well-known music store he owns and operates in upstate New York, he has found time to make a large oeuvre of albums and singles that spring from his bitterness and cynicism. Yet Schaubroeck is no raving looney — his records are intense but they’re sane, and ambitiously conceived and executed. And while his musical and songwriting skills have grown by leaps and bounds over the years, he has never mellowed — his fifth album is more intense and gritty than any of his others, save the first.
A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck…DEAD, the cover of which pictures the artist with a bullet hole in his forehead, is a three-record extravaganza in quadraphonic sound (!) that, in 22 scenes combining songs and dialogue, tells the story of Schaubroeck’s teenaged incarceration. While powerful and impressive, the subject and treatment is far too personal to be of general interest, and the length makes complete listening a real challenge. This catharsis may have been necessary for him, but it’s more an accomplishment than an entertainment.
Religion is the general subject of Schaubroeck’s second effort. His vicious cover picture and many of the record’s lyrics criticize various aspects of the church, but he couches it all in subdued, sophisticated music that’s superficially attractive. While cleverly sardonic, the laconic treatment wants for more unleashed aggression.
Live at the Holiday Inn features six songs on two discs. Armed with an eight-piece band and facing a seemingly enthusiastic audience, Schaubroeck performs selections from his first LP, giving the songs (written, actually, in the late ’60s) the benefit of improved singing and stronger musical backing. The band hits a repetitive groove while Armand improvises and draws out the vocal portions ad infinitum. A powerful document.
Shakin’ Shakin’ adds a rockabilly twinge for several tunes; lyrics about winning and losing at love make the record’s stance almost appealing. There’s still bitterness, but Armand sounds more upbeat than usual. Unfortunately, despite great sound quality and solid playing, the album’s bland.
With Ratfucker, Schaubroeck created the masterpiece he’d been building toward. Were it not for the indelicate title and similarly strong language throughout, this concept album about death and depravity might have finally found him a major audience. Schaubroeck — as Lou Reed has also done, especially on The Blue Mask — posits himself as an assortment of wretched characters — a flesh peddler, a hired killer, an abuser of women — and sneers his way to disconcerting believability against a musical backdrop of excellent uptempo rock and funk. Cinematic and convincing, obscuring the line between art and life, Ratfucker uses horns and a background chorus to complement the characters’ singing, talking and growling. In painting images of villains who wear their sickness like a badge, Schaubroeck delivers a rough, stunning tour de force.