The artwork on this Brighton quintet’s debut LP employs the same scratchy/violent style as Batcave bands like Specimen and Alien Sex Fiend; the music on Jack is similarly gloomy and intense, but generally less clichéd and more engaging. Credit singer Chrissy McGee (an original, intelligent lyricist — check the story-like “Five Days in the Neighborhood” for details), whose deep, deadpan voice sounds a little like Siouxsie’s, and the use of four guest musicians augmenting the guitar-based lineup with piano, strings and sax. Bone Orchard’s other strength is a sense of dynamics — they can thunder oppressively or drop back for contrast. Jack may not be an overly pleasant disc, but it is a well-crafted one with several nice touches.
The two earlier EPs are of the same caliber, if less artful, with lots of aggressive songs with exclamation points in the titles. The band definitely has a major Birthday Party jones but, unlike many other Party pretenders, they bring a fresh perspective to the psychobilly sound (McGee wasn’t called the female Nick Cave for nothing). Stuffed to the Gills‘ best track is “Shall I Carry the Budgie Woman?,” a meld of surf guitar, tribal drums and a strange outro with bird sounds. Swallowing Havoc!‘s highlights are the Crampsian “I’m Boned! (Boneabilly Party)” and the slow, sexy “Love Has Sin.”
Bone Orchard followed Jack up with the “Princess Epilepsy” 12-inch — consisting of two more psychobilly cuts (McGee’s assertive “You Don’t Press My Pants” is pretty funny) and a long, burning blues on the B-side — which fails to raise as many hackles as the earlier EPs. Ironically, the band’s final release, Penthouse Poultry, is a breakthrough, diverging off into all sorts of weirdness: “Scenic Cruiser” is cocktail jazz with tingling sax, “Eyesore” nicks its riff from the Stooges’ “TV Eye” and the eerie ballad “Dumb Poet” could be a sibling of the Birthday Party’s “She’s Hit.”