Emerging from their basement laboratory in Victoria, British Columbia in the early part of the 1980s, the latter- day Wright Brothers — Rob (bass, vocals, guitar) and John (drums, vocals, keyboards) — first revealed the fruits of their disquieting musical recombination experiments in 1980 on “SS / Look Here Come the Wormies.” That was followed by the 7-inch Betrayal, Fear, Anger, Hatred statement of purpose and the full-length Mama, an accomplished and impressive display of taut and direct lock-formation bass/drums/etc. simplicity (think of Devo on a jazz tip, Motörhead after art school or Wire on psychotic steroids) and pointedly warped lyrics.
But that was just the beginning. The five-song You Kill Me — which introduced longtime guitarist Andy Kerr into the NMN studio process — abuses Jimi Hendrix (a tuneless “Manic Depression”), nervously rips open the schematic “Body Bag” and includes a cartoon poster of a drug shooter. Alternative Tentacles later paired that record on a tape and CD with Sex Mad, a full-length set of obsessions (“Love Thang,” “Revenge,” “Dad”) which pours out punky collegiate weirdness and slash’n’burn egghead energy.
The Day Everything Became Nothing, a six-song 12- inch, offers more dada invention with concertedly intense music. The unstructured prose of the title track is supported by pounding drums alternating with bursts of guitar noise; “Beauty and the Beast” syncopates the rhythms for a disorienting effect that impressively manages to suggest funk and negate it in the same line.
Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed focuses the insular band’s alienation into fairly presentable form, modulating the carefully arranged muscular rock and punk into a tense knot of energy with fewer jagged points and rough edges. Ably punctuated by unsettling rhythm shifts, Rob’s noisy guitar solos provide most of the record’s appeal. (Small Parts later joined its immediate predecessor on a power-packed CD entitled The Day Everything Became Isolated and Destroyed.)
Wrong puts an angry amphetamine charge into Small Parts‘ precision, sending NoMeansNo into clamorous, roaring overdrive that, in its most highly evolved organization, suggests King Crimson’s Clockwork Orange-reared offspring. As self-amused and often enraged lyricists, the Wrights don’t bother with longwinded expressions of sensitive emotions: the complete screamed libretto of “Brainless Wonder” is “I need lunch/Feed me now/I need lunch/Where’s my break?!!!” Occasional descents into mere punk are disappointingly plain, but bracingly original tracks like “The End of All Things” and “Big Dick” are utterly invigorating.
If by no means cuddly, the live disc recorded in Europe the previous year proves the gale-force ferocity of NoMeansNo — convened here as a trio in which the guitarist remains unidentified — in concert. The Wrights play with the coordinated fury of linked threshers; the buzzing guitar noise and Rob’s singing leap out through the dense rhythm assault to administer a firm sonic throttle to the Wire-like “Two Lips, Two Lungs and One Tongue” (from Wrong), “Body Bag” (You Kill Me) and “Teresa, Give Me That Knife” (Small Parts). Teetering thrillingly on the brink of meltdown, NoMeansNo whips it good.
L’amour seems to have entered the Wrights’ world on 0+2=1, a restrained and reflective — even poetically sensitive — album that makes an unconvincing stab at establishing a new stylistic beachhead. “Now” begins the album with acoustic guitar, a mild two-step and lyrics about “the things I have heard you whisper in the dark”; “Mary (The Last)” utilizes a funk tempo. Ultimately, however, the group returns to an attenuated version of its toxic shock formulation, and salvages the album with effective Devoesque riffology in “The Fall,” the horrorshow creepiness of “Everyday I Start to Ooze” and the brutal industrialism of “I Think You Know.”
Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? bares more of the duo’s inner adult with better results, relegating willful offensiveness (“Kill Everyone Now”) and unrestrained anomie (“Madness and Death”) to a minor supporting role; even “Cats, Sex and Nazis,” with its lyrics about flesh- eating zombies, is essentially a love song. Generally maintaining a consistent, controlled blare (except for the sweetly popped parts of “Slowly Melting” and the “Dancing in the Streets” takeoff of “Lullaby”), NoMeansNo waxes eloquent, contradicting the music’s free extroversion with thoughtful considerations of loneliness, devotion, emotional need and the meaning of life. “I woke up dreaming that I was dead…”
Taking a great leap forward in overall presentation, The Worldhood of the World (As Such) is as rough and grubby an album as the band has thrown off in years. Sounding thuggishly comfortable in their sonic element, the Wrights turn outward again, addressing violence (“I’ve Got a Gun”), social Darwinism (“Predators”) and life’s castoffs (“Victim’s Choice,” “He Learned How to Bleed”) with surprising compassion and concerted musicianship cranked up high and hard. A couple of songs-“The Jungle,” “Lost,” “My Politics,” “State of Grace”-continue to explore the provocative self-analysis that has become a significant element of NMN’s work, but the organic integration of mind and body makes this a satisfying, nearly profound, expression of a mature, sophisticated band-no longer geared just for cult adulation — that hasn’t lost its taste for blood or gristle.
When they’re not being NoMeansNo, the Wrights and a couple of pals masquerade as the Ramones-cloning comic pop- punk Hanson Brothers (guitarist Tommy, singer Johnny, bassist Robbie and drummer Kenny). If the hockey-rockers don’t try very hard to make music that resembles their purported idols, at least the quartet shouts its song countdowns and has the imitation graphics end together. “Comatose” is something of a soundalike, and the beer-guzzling “Blitzkrieg Hops” (“Hey! You!/Let’s brew!…Tastes like an import/Crack another cold quart”) does rewrite the similarly titled original, but most of Gross Misconduct sounds no more like the Ramones than any other speedy group with a dumb sense of humor. Sample lyric: “I saw her driving the Zamboni/I asked her out for some spumoni.”
The magazine-concept release cryptically credited to Mr. Right & Mr. Wrong is a rabid, irresponsible and stylistic diverse sampler of new NMN tracks (like the delicate indelicacy of “This Wound Will Never Heal,” the raging “Who Fucked Who?,” the spoken meta-mechanics of “Widget”), a couple of solo blues numbers by Mr. Wrong (Rob Wright), the Hanson Brothers’ rewritten cover of the Kinks’ “Victoria,” a song by Swell prod. and some delightfully bizarre-lite Wright Brothers leftovers from ’79-80. For convenience and amusement, the back cover offers alternate CD programming strategies — by song type, chronology and alphabetical order.