Ted Milton is a direct and honest guy. “I will lead the world over the end of the Santa Monica Pier,” he declares in “No Go Dada” (originally on Bullets for You, but also on several of the live records: two Blurt credos are recycling and documenting each new lineup in performance), “but not until you’ve raised the temperature of the Pacific Ocean to blood temperature and provide warm towels in the dressing room.” (He’s practical, too.) Making a saxophone honk, screech and generally giving the impression of Mother Goose meeting armageddon, Milton, his drummer brother Jake and guitarist Pete Creese debuted in the summer of 1980 with the “My Mother Was a Friend of the Enemy of the People” single, followed it with a live debut album the following year and have been squawking their way through a noisy avant-garde netherworld between jazz and rock ever since. Ted’s voice is just what his band’s name would suggest, a grumbling, gurgling, bleating (if not bleeding) blurt of a sound, silenced only when his mouth is wrapped around a saxophone reed. That saxophone would just as soon imitate fingernails down a chalkboard or elephants in heat as conform to the jazzy warmth the instrument might yield in other hands.
A lover of wordplay, the iconoclastic Milton is capable of serious irreverence. In the title track of Bullets for You, a song about JFK’s assassination, he grunts, “I am a donut. There’s a hole in my head. Ich bin ein Berliner. That’s what Jack said…and now Jack is dead.” Blurt lyrics (as well as those on Milton’s solo works) are dada ga-ga woven around some kind of derailed spark. Behind that spark is a literate and educated sense of nonsense. You either love Blurt or hate them; there’s plenty of validity to both views.
Blurt is one of the trio’s artiest and most orderly works. Creese’s minimalist guitar spews out repeating patterns of stark chords that function almost like a backing samba in “The Ruminant Plinth” (against Ted’s incoherently belching screams and squirming sax) and double as a rhythm track, as well as the melody, at other times.
Bullets for You is Blurt at its most accessible, and the final release by the original lineup. Featuring lyrics that are actually decipherable, song structures from Earth instead of Mars, and even hooks such as the mutilated two-syllable “you-ooo” in the title track, Ted twists his voice (between saxophone tweetings) into a yodel-edged squeal that is as catchy and memorable as any pop refrain. Jake counters with some equally infectious drumming.
After Creese left, the brothers hired keyboardist Herman Martin for a short time. The cassette-only Six Views in Black, compiled from four live performances in March of 1985, contains the band’s only known recordings with synthesizer. (Blurt’s live documentation also includes a four-song side of A Factory Quartet.)
Martin alone accompanies Milton on the solo 12-inch rendition of “Ode: O to Be Seen Through Your Eyes!” (a band version of which appears on Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hit (Take 2)), a recitation set to a harsh synthesized drumbeat. Like Foetus, whose twisted intonations his vocals resemble, Milton is a master of mood when allowed out on his own. Martin’s synth work is anything but traditional, veering from the silicon chip gone amok of “Skies Are Blue” to percussive layers and textures.
Guitarist Steve Eagles replaced Martin for Friday the 12th, another live album that contains almost the same selections as the twelve-track Six Views, but returns the arrangements to guitar.
By the time of Poppycock, Paul Wigens had taken over the drum seat. Though the only dance-step possible to a Blurt record is the quadriplegic head-bob, Smoke Time almost reaches a dance-club orientation. With Wigens contributing violin as well as percussion, the album features a big, clear beat on the title cut and more upfront drumming in the unbelievably intense “Nights Before.” A smorgasbord of Blurt’s various sounds, it revives the band’s early-period sound in “Bullet-Proof Vest,” while “Aboule Ton Fric” returns the band to the simpler textures of “The Ruminant Plinth.”
With new drummer Nic Murcott, Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hit (Take 2) is a sparser recording; Milton grumbles intelligibly (in a mixture of English and French) while a smoother, clarinetish tone sneaks out of his sax bell. Murcott also appears on The Body, a live retrospective that includes “Enemy Ears” (dating back to the first Blurt lineup) but concentrates on post-Creese material. The majestically spacious live recording finds Milton back to his honk-and-babble vocals, Murcott drumming with crashing precision and everything else harsh and grungy.
In another extra-Blurt-ial project, Ted collaborated with Arto Lindsay, Terry Day and Jean-Francois Pauvros on the avant-experimental Le Grande Amour LP.