Proponents of an extremist wing of the less-is-more school of thought, the Dwarves have wreaked much underground havoc with highly confrontational (often blood- soaked) live sets that are over in ten minutes and “longplayers” of acute political incorrectness that don’t last even twice that. If there weren’t so much action here — imagine watching The Evil Dead on fast- forward — these San Francisco-via-Chicago neo-punks might be just another bunch of exhibitionists.
The Dwarves downplay the existence of Horror Stories which, all things considered, is solid reasoning. Captured in transition from teen Zappaphiles (originally known as Suburban Nightmare) to circus-freak speedballers, the quartet strains against the flower-power leash, but never manages to break free. What followed, however, is a metamorphosis as ungodly as any in the annals of rock’n’roll. Toolin’ for a Warm Teabag lasts but nine minutes, but that’s enough time for the Dwarves to slash through seven post-hardcore incantations (“Free Cocaine,” “Let’s Get Pregnant,” etc.) that effectively exorcise any prior embarrassments.
You might think that Blood Guts & Pussy‘s title (along with the calculated offense of a cover that depicts two lithe young women and a rabbit-toting male dwarf, all nude and drenched in Type O claret) tells you all you need to know about the disc. Think again. Unexpectedly tight and musicianly (especially guitarist He Who Cannot Be Named), the Dwarves reveal themselves as informed pop students. Pushed along by the yammering vocals of Blag Jesus (aka Julius Seizure), these eleven tracks (fifteen minutes this time) are constantly on the verge of falling apart, but that somehow translates into immensely powerful forward propulsion. The CD includes two non-LP tracks from the 7-inch Astro Boy. The Lucifer’s Crank 7-inch compiles seven alternate takes of songs from the past three records, plus a devolved obliteration of Red Crayola’s “Hurricane Fighter Plane.”
The water-treading Thank Heaven for Little Girls (which mercifully bypasses the potential sleeve transgressions offered by the title, settling for a tattooed tyke) comes as a bit of a disappointment: by trading the funnycar frenzy for a more lucid metal-punk sound, the band loses half the battle. Sugarfix cedes the war. The newly pseudonymized Blag Dahlia pauses only rarely to offend (although “Smack City” is pretty funny), while the band chugs along at barely over the speed limit. The inner-sleeve art memorializes the wrestling-mask- wearing He Who Cannot Be Named, who was allegedly stabbed to death in Philadelphia earlier that year. It turned out to be a particularly intricate publicity stunt, which cost the band its deal with Sub Pop, which was embarrassed and incensed over the charade.
Specula teams ex-Dwarves drummer Sigh Moan with the equally dopily-named Specter Spec for a Big Black-inspired assault on classic rock structure. On Erupt, the gonzo duo splinters hard rock into jigsaw-puzzle-size shards, reassembling it on a bed of genetically altered drum loops. Whether grinding out Alice Cooper-tinged glam (“Desolation Nightmare”) or fashioning stoner ballads (“Hello Pain”), Specula keep as firm a grip on irony as on their bongs.
A Hard Day’s Nightmare is the real wild card here. Recorded before the renamed band’s move to California, it’s more or less a drug-sodden update of Cruisin’ With Ruben and the Jets, sound-collage splatter oozing between relatively straightforward bits of Farfisa-tinged psychobilly. The disc is more clever than outrageous; a song called “6” brags “I ain’t gonna be no average dick.” And while a cover of “Brand New Cadillac” may have appealed to revivalists, there’s nothing old-fashioned about an album whose sides are titled “Sex” and “Sex & Drugs.”