Cop Shoot Cop

  • Cop Shoot Cop
  • Headkick Facsimile EP (Japan. Supernatural Organization) 1989 
  • Piece Man EP (Vertical) 1989 
  • Consumer Revolt (Circuit) 1990  (Big Cat) 1992 
  • White Noise (Big Cat) 1991 
  • Suck City EP (Interscope/Atlantic) 1992 
  • Ask Questions Later (Interscope/Atlantic) 1993 
  • Release (Interscope/Atlantic) 1995 
  • Motherhead Bug
  • Zambodia (Pow Wow) 1993 

Anyone unfamiliar with this Lower East Side (Manhattan, NYC) mob of miscreants might well ascertain all they need to know by taking a look (and a sniff) at the cover of an early single that came spattered in (very real) pig’s blood. All of those left in the room after first exposure will no doubt revel in the sternum-crushing rhythms and bewildering sample overload emanating from the speakers-and give extra points for the luridly anti-authority (heck, anti-everything) slogans that lead snarler Tod Ashley lobs into the mix.

Calculatingly deconstructing rock’n’roll in a manner spiritually akin to Pussy Galore (whose Jon Spencer briefly played metal percussion in the band Shithaus with Cop’s Tod A.) if sonically opposite (CSC uses two basses and no guitar), Cop Shoot Cop shared the same taste for indulging in pain, filth, disillusion and discontent. Unfortunately, that stance reduced their otherwise potent strain of subversive diversion to a cliché of sorts. Rarely did they achieve the serrated poetry of decadence skirted most prominently these days by Nick Cave and Henry Rollins (after Burroughs and Bukowski), more often settling for a showoff revelry of attitude easily pegged as Little Black.

Cop Shoot Cop formed out of the ashes of noisemasters Dig Dat Hole and exceedingly confrontational junk-blues potentates Black Snakes (a band that counted among its members transgressive filmmaker Richard Kern). The quartet wasted no time establishing a reputation for sonic fuckery through use of sheet-metal percussion and guitar disavowal (Ashley and Jack Natz both play bass, with the former taking credit for “high end” version of the instrument). The early self-released EPs move with a decidedly mechanical grind, but sidestep industrial pigeonholing thanks to the inventive found-sound sampling of “Cripple” Jim Filer. The wall-of-noise sampling, odd stuttered timings and belligerent anti-structures illustrate a conceptual ambition underscored by such psychotic psychedelic sound collages as “Disconnected 666,” somewhat less structurally/sonically intricate than Pere Ubu’s “Sentimental Journey” but drawn from the same dark core of industrial paranoia. Harking back in some ways to the days of New York no wave, Cop Shoot Cop score three toes idiot, seven toes savant on Piece Man — an improvement over Headkick Facsimile‘s ratio of five to five.

Consumer Revolt (which disappeared almost instantly after its initial release on a flimsy Long Island indie) finds Ashley formulating a barbed, whipsmart perspective on American society, accented by fractured backing tracks that always manage to fall away when the frontman is about to deliver his punchline. Black humor beats black metal any day.

Passing judgments like “Injustice is never an accident/Repression is only a state of mind” (“Traitor/Martyr”) on the shapely, song-strong White Noise suggest that there is a moral gyroscope to all this. Still, Ashley saves his best lines for the usual topics: “Corporate Protopop” (foreshadowing an obsession that would get further consideration on the next release) promises “Your needs are our main concern” and urges consumers to “nurture your desires…cultivate your desires…let them grow and flower into the blossom that is greed.”

In characteristic fashion, Suck City steamrolls anyone who’d cry “major-label sellout” by shamelessly presenting the four-song EP as just that: A sleeve line even suggests that buyers should “file under ’90s nostalgia.” Although most of the material is subdued, almost funereal, the title track swings with an exaggerated swagger as Ashley unravels a self-mocking, post-“Truckin’ ” bio (“We’ll be history by 34 / There’s always the reunion tour…suck city, here we come”) that should put the tired genre to rest once and for all. The ensuing Ask Questions Later maintains that acrimony, wrapping Ashley’s ever-virulent neo-anarchist rhetoric (which proves particularly potent on “$10 Bill” and “Got No Soul”) in elaborate arrangements that employ a three-man horn section keyed by trombonist David Ouimet.

For Release, the band broke with (or caved in to) tradition by adding a guitarist, Steve McMillen, even though the still-bass-heavy sound of songs like “Interference” and the Mancini-on-methadone “Last Legs” indicates they don’t seem to have found a lot for him to do. Nevertheless, the crisper overall sound and scrupulous inclusion of previously superfluous frills like easy hooks and singalong choruses (“It Only Hurts When I Breathe” strives oh-so-hard for anthemic status) paint a picture of a band sneaking surreptitiously toward the mainstream.

After playing in a nascent version of Cop Shoot Cop, David Ouimet formed Motherhead Bug, a purposefully disconcerting industrial orchestra. On Zambodia, the free-flowing aggregation appears as a nine-piece, with three drummers, two string players and a horn trio carving out rough-hewn noisebursts. The instrumentation and Ouimet’s theatrical vocals lend a decadent grandeur to Weill-esque numbers like “Demon Erection” and “My Sweet Milstar.” It may be burlesque, but it’s still pretty scary stuff.

[Art Black / Deborah Sprague]

See also: Firewater