When they first appeared on the scene, this Madison, Wisconsin trio wanted folks to believe they were moonshine-swillin’, small mammal-torturin’ dudes who did a lot more than just kiss their cousins. They validated those impressions with a sound reminiscent of the most primitive country blues imaginable impaled on shards of Birthday Party distortion. Having exhausted that shtick, however, Killdozer returned to exhume their real roots — on the wrong side of the tracks in one of the few American burgs to have fallen under Socialist rule this half-century. Whether quoting from The Communist Manifesto or John Wayne Gacy’s Big Book o’ Fun, Killdozer never sheds its smirk.
Intellectuals Are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite owes quite a bit to the shadowy swamp tales of Creedence Clearwater Revival (more than just the cover of “Run Through the Jungle”); singer/bassist Michael Gerald’s spookily incisive, virulent invective is riveting. When he’s picking at his own psychic scabs (as on “A Man’s Gotta Be a Man to Be a Man”), it’s hard not to shudder with empathy. When he’s tugging at someone else’s, though, the desire to slap him is overwhelming. Fortunately, the former situation prevails by a large measure. Key line: “If there’s one thing in this world I cannot understand, it’s that there’s so many things I cannot understand.”
Snakeboy all but bursts with those things. In an abdomen-emptying growl midway between Howlin’ Wolf and Leonard Cohen, Gerald bellows tense monologues from radically diverse points of view; children being torn away from dead mothers give way to swaggering sex prowlers (like the, er, protagonist or “King of Sex”). The album’s crawling trek through the lives of folks who could never have been contenders (and know it) is reminiscent of prime Cave, but the everpresent danger of seeming overwrought is neatly avoided by secreting a laugh — in this case a parodic version of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” — in some dark corner. On Burl, which is otherwise loaded with electro-shock folk songs all about murder, deception and plagues in the best pre-Woody Guthrie tradition, the gut-buster is, coincidentally, again a cover (Jessi Colter’s “I’m Not Lisa”).
Little Baby Buntin’ (which might as well be subtitled More Songs About Building Collapses and Castration) travels much the same terrain, only at much slower speed. That’s a plus, because Killdozer is more effective when lumbering along slowly enough to make a novice check the stereo’s power supply. With Bill Hobson’s fractured guitar barrages bisecting Gerald’s fat, anaconda-like basslines, 12 Point Buck is the best sounding Killdozer record. The shtick, however, has seen better days.
Issued as a boxed set of singles before being reincarnated as an LP, For Ladies Only collects Killdozer’s agribusiness/performance-art interpretations of a passel of Have a Nice Day-quality (if not exactly era) Top 40 hits (including “American Pie” and “Hush”) in much the same way a thoughtless child would collect butterflies — swooping down and pinning their flapping wings, allowing the hapless victims to tear themselves apart. Versions of “Funk #49” (James Gang), “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” (Bad Company) and even “One Tin Soldier” (from Billy Jack) are neither pisstakes nor homages; these guys don’t hate or love the songs, they simply act as though they’d written ’em. Intellectuals and Snakeboy are packaged on one CD; Buntin’ and 12 Point Buck are on another.
The Killdozer that broke a lengthy silence with the agitprop-sleeved Uncompromising War on Art Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat has a new lineup (guitarist Paul Zagoras has supplanted Bill Hobson, whose brother Dan still holds court from the drum throne) and a philosophical shift. Such concerns as police-community relations (the crux of the blistering “The Pig Was Cool”) usurp unadorned pigfuckery as the band’s main theme, although Killdozer can still deliver a punchline (like the cover of Humble Pie’s “Hot ‘n’ Nasty”) with the best of ’em. (The CD includes Burl.)
Steve Albini’s recording lends a dry, audio vérité quality to the discomfiting slices of life that make up God Hears Pleas of the Innocent. Gerald so totally immerses himself in the protagonists of “Porky’s Dad” (a farmer on the verge of losing the family spread) and “A Mother Has a Hard Road” (matriarch appraising her dysfunctional brood) you’d swear he was playing host to itinerant spirits. Technophobes take note: you and yours will chortle heartily at the snarky instrumental “Paul Doesn’t Understand Jazz.”