As a youngster I used to buy the NME. At some stage, and my lord I wished I still had it, they published a special lift out which compiled all of the artists that had appeared in their weekly independent record charts since the papers inception. I can’t remember now the reason they did it, perhaps some anniversary or something, but they had lists of all of these bands with amazing names I obsessed over and wished that I could hear. Bands like Fur Bible, the duo with Patricia Morrison from Sisters of Mercy and Kid Congo Powers, Hagar the Womb, Butthole Surfers and the one that fascinated me the most, Foetus (the name used by ex-pat Australian Jim Thirlwell). Of course the listings came under all of the various monikers such as Foetus Uber Frisco, You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath, The Foetus All-Nude Review and the most famous Scrapping Foetus off the Wheel. Shortly after that the NME published a review of a Foetus live show which described Jim Thirlwell as a menacing, nasty bit of work, stalking the stage and being as provocative as possible. That review only increased my interest.
It was a couple of years later that I finally hear the band. My local record shop had a second hand copy of a live record, Male, and this time Jim was calling himself Foetus in Excelsis Corruptus Deluxe. It was a brutal record and was close to an industrial version of early Swans that I’d ever heard. At the time it was a bit too much for me and at some stage it was sold or disappeared. The songs on that record were the same ones the NME reported him performing in that great review – English Faggot, I’ll Meet you In Poland Baby and Lust for Death. A litany of nasty, transgressive tracks. At the time the press was pretty dismissive of Thirlwell and his Foetus project and he faded off just about everyone’s radar, mine included. Years later and magazines like the Wire have lauded his work and late last year I stumbled over Nail and Hole in my local record shop. Curiosity got the better of me and I took them home.
The thing that struck me about Hole is that the tracks such as Lust of Death sound like a rock-a-billy band at Hell’s cabaret. The tracks are infused with an industrial vibe but the vaudeville showman persona that Thirlwell establishes is both pervasive and powerful. Lust for Death is essentially apocalyptic Big Band. If I close my eyes I can imagine him in his tux and forties microphone, martini glass in hand and death in his eyes. Are the elements that freaked me out all those years ago still present? Sure they are. But these songs, now remastered, are tremendous examples of early odd-ball industrial music. No bald heads, clanging pipes or leather gear for Thirlwell though, he looked like the Stray Cats’ ginger step brother. Some Bizarre re-released Nail, Hole, Thaw and Sink in 2007 with the original album art work. It would have been great for them to includ the extra tracks that featured on the US album release on PVC in 1984 but it’s a small complaint. I suspect that this will quickly go out of print again. It might be a while before they press it again. It’s worth tracking down.