Thelonious Monster built its rep on the LA club scene by playing lurching, shambolic club sets (featuring a seven-man, four-guitar lineup), but the thinly produced Baby…You’re Bumming My Life Out in a Supreme Fashion does little to capture the wacked-out appeal of the Monster’s live act. What you get instead is a half- assed grab-bag of styles, some of them effective and others just plain lazy, unified by self-indulgent down-in-the- gutter lyrics and frontman Bob Forrest’s whiny personability.
Next Saturday Afternoon is a bit closer to conventional rock’n’roll and is the better for it, unveiling heretofore hidden strengths. The band, pared down to a quintet (including ex-Weirdos guitarist Dix Denney and 45 Grave bassist Rob Graves) discovered melody, producing musically and lyrically impressive material like “Next,” “Anymore” and “Walk on Water.”
The John Doe-produced Stormy Weather (the CD includes all of Next Saturday Afternoon) continues the trend towards musical and lyrical discipline, with surprisingly graceful stabs at topical folk-rock on “Lena Horne Still Sings Stormy Weather” and “Sammy Hagar Weekend,” not to mention straightforward (and successful) readings of Tracy Chapman’s “For My Lover” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”
After three albums, each of which drew nearer to commercial presentability, self-confessed fuckup Forrest let the group collapse and set about making a highly personal solo album. That record was ultimately scrapped, but parts of it were salvaged and completed by most of the Stormy Weather band to become the relaunched Monster’s fourth — and best — album. Despite the riot of credits (it looks as if half the music world had some part in its production) and such guest stars as Tom Waits, Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, Al Kooper, Michael Penn and Benmont Tench, Beautiful Mess is a lot more together than the title would suggest.
Alternately self-critical, apathetic, bitter and frightened, Forrest’s lyrics on Beautiful Mess have a lacerating, confessional power in which his self-destructive past feeds a new, no less jaundiced appreciation of life. “I just can’t be sad,” he sings after listing his assets in the folk-rocking “I Live in a Nice House,” but he’s clearly not convinced. The soulful “I Get So Scared” and the Faces-like “Ain’t Never Been Nuthin’ for Me in This World” sound more like it; the familial alienation of the stomping “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” and the dismal plea of the wah-wahing “Body and Soul?” (co- written with Kooper) cut closer still to the bone. The affecting suffering of Forrest’s auto-sacrifice would be unbearably tragic (or too solipsistic) to behold were it not for the glimmers of redemption in his ability to see himself. Still, it’s a rugged way to make a living. “It’s like my body and soul can’t take it anymore/Please somebody help me/I never wanted help before.”
A decade later, Forrest returned from a period of musical invisibility with a new band named for the de Sica film The Bicycle Thief.