Review Summary: Ambitious, overwhelming, rough, rugged.... saddle up for a blaze into a flawed but ambitious psychedelic opera.
It has been five long years since J.G. Thirlwell's last outing with his one man musical project Foetus, Love
. It was an odd album that strayed far from the industrial roots of its creator, dabbling in chanson, modern classical and the abuse of harpsichord many to the distress of a Foetus fan, most of who seemed to later embrace it as an underrated classic. Where could Thirlwell go next, one might ask? If one thing is evident, it would seem he was getting better and better in many ways as he attempted to push the envelope with his songwriting abilities, at the same time revealing a number of uncomfortable flaws in his technical approach. J.G. has often claimed he isn't much of a musician and can't really play any instruments (or according to some of his critics, sing well), rather being someone who tries his best to use the production studio as his tool to get the sounds he requires which is an admirable effort considering how groundbreaking albums such as Hole, Nail
were in this regard back in the 80's. Still, attempts at incorporating further pop influences with the more melodic approaches on Love
(and to an extent, earlier albums Flow
) made for an incredibly acquired taste, primarily due to J.G's atonal approach to singing.
This brings us to his 10th full length LP as Foetus (if you count York
), 2010's Hide
. Thirlwell seems to have upped the ante here, describing it as a “neo-symphonic avant-psychedelic concept album informed by the culture of fear" opening the album with 9 minute long bastardised opera piece Cosmetics
featuring trained in the field singer Abby Fischer. This isn't quite industrial anymore, folks (although J.G. was always difficult to pin in such a simplistic manner). Hide
owes more to psychedelic rock influences, cinematic film scores and classical music, sort of furthering the themes explored on Love
, but.... more. Hide
is an overwhelming, sweeping statement in comparison, but unfortunately as is the case with much of Thirlwell's work, a flawed one.
The aforementioned Cosmetics
and Fortitudine Vincemus
are the two songs which primarily feature Abby Fischer, and are the most operatic and epic Foetus has ever been. Taking a sort of avant-garde approach with what sounds like a full bodied orchestra burying electronic synths in the mix with odd time structures, these songs threaten to swallow the listener whole featuring some rather loopy twists and turns with a rather cinematic vibe to the whole ordeal. Here Comes The Rain
are restrained in comparison, featuring soft, sinister piano based rhythms with a melodic vocal performance that brings to mind the song Don't Want Me Anymore
off of Love
. Stood Up
is a highlight, and is the closest the album gets to a song with a rock stucture (apart from perhaps You're Trying To Break Me
) which is bound to become a Foetus classic.
It is probably The Ballad Of Sisyphus T. Jones
which is the best song here though, a rollicking Spaghetti Western homage which feels like Danny Elfman and Ennio Morricone duking it out in the studio. It is truly marvellous, whilst weird ambient interludes such as Concrete
remind me of why I loved Foetus in the first place. The only track I outright don't like much is Paper Slippers
, which has drawn comparisons to the ballads of Pink Floyd (though to me that doesn't quite feel accurate). J.G. brings out the vocal effects, which is something I have hated since I heard his attempts at warbling vocals on Gash
, and to me doesn't work very well over the slow progression of music. Being only the second track, it made me rather uneasy but it was definitely worth sticking around after.
It is difficult for me to rate anything by J.G., the most apt description I have read about him is that he is a limited musician who knows how to passionately get the best of what he wants from his tools, and so is the perfect example of a rugged, flawed genius at his best. Admittedly Hide
sounds like a humongous mess at first, and after several listens it is still hard to wrap your head around everything that is happening all at once. I certainly admire its ambitiousness, and find much of it genuinely engaging but still, there is just something that feels a little off here and there which detracts from the awesomeness of another Foetus release. Still, it is a worthwhile listen for both J.G. fans and those unfamiliar with his work alike.