Sounds - March 6, 1982
The Birthday Party / Lydia Lunch
'Drunk On The Pope's Blood / The Agony And The Ecstasy'
(4AD JAD 202) ****
The Birthday Party, by their very determined nature, have never been a subject for discussion or dissection. You love or hate them. Rarely have I met a person who 'likes' them.
Insular, savage and exhilarating, The Birthday Party dish it out and those who can handle the show are the takers, somehow incidental in their importance. As any witness of a Nick Cave performance will testify, The Birthday Party deliver their sound with equal parts salt and condescention that treats the audience like privileged few at a peepshow to some ungodly ritual. But perhaps the truest test and beauty of the Party is that they respond to criticisms of fake artiness and zero talent with the same indifferent shrug they give to a heckler . . . they don't care.
Naturally, all this is difficult to fit onto plastic and make stick. For the converted 'Drunk . . .' is a memento to cherish, it's highlights being its lowlifes. Circling the musical wagons from the start, the Birthday Party play four numbers, the best being a fiercely insane rendition of 'Zoo Music Girl' that on it's own vindicates the group and frames their validity and ingenuity in all its grand, whiplashed fizzle.
Elsewhere, on 'Pleasure Heads' and the classic 'King Ink', the pace slackens but only in a relative sense. It's only ninety per cent crazy. Who else sounds like a crow being beaten with a brick at a cocktail party, a pell mell of clattering disturbed instrumentation. Guess Who?
Gratifying as well is the inclusion on vinyl, finally, of the Party tackling (as in 'flying tackle', sports fans . . .) a Stooges song, the group most singularly responsible for The Birthday Party's development. Losing the original's garage acne-bursting with the Party line, a civilized savagery that is another side of urban psycho-teenage behavior, the cover respects the unique schism that was The Stooges and resurrects their zombie spirit faithfully.
It's their party and they'll die if they want to . . . the least you can do is listen.
Where The Birthday Party are unassailable Lydia Lunch is inaccessible, and far from apologising for it. One listen to her epic is enough to send normal folk leaping before an express train. . . those prone to migranes, schizophrenia and manic depression need not comply. An avant-garde Hammer theme song, with feedback darting about like so many demented swallows through the gathering maelstrom, 'The Agony Is The Ecstasy' is a discordant, self-important and self-obsessed howl. As home dentists will tell you, if you take a tooth out with a wrench all you'll get is an abcess.
She's a character alright and listening to her does entail suffering. So what have we learned, class? Suffering builds character! Lydia's taunting, ghostly whine is the icing on the cake, except she doesn't jump out of the cake, she walks on it. Not that I'd discourage hearing Lydia Lunch, I'd just advise you to have a doctor handy. Or an analyst . . .
- Ralph Traitor