Review Summary: Solid, underrated album from the grunge years.
Formed from the remains of popular Texan punk/noise rock band ‘Scratch Acid’, the Jesus Lizard were a band that combined some serious punk swagger with a love of experimentation and grungy aesthetics to become one of the better acts in the wave of alt rock bands that sprung up in the ‘90s. Down is one of their later albums, and is considered by many to be some of the last quality work the band would ever do.
It is a record that, true to form for the Jesus Lizard, sounds at times unconventional and varied, and at others down right schizophrenic. In some ways the Jesus Lizard were emblematic of the musical landscape of their time. They are, both in their influences and sound as pure a ‘90s band as you will ever come across. Every second of Down oozes ‘90s, with their brooding attitude, shambolic, fuzzed out riffs and their ambivalent and wacky approach to their music. Combine this with their punk history and you can clearly see how they were able to thrive in a popular music world dominated at the time by one angsty, complicated punk rocker from Aberdeen.
Down is a record that twists and turns from brooding and atmospheric passages to frenzied anarchy and back again so regularly that trying to keep up could almost induce motion sickness. Indeed, the Jesus Lizard often sound more like a collection of musicians playing their own tunes in the same room than a band recording together. During some of the more frenzied choruses on Down, one can easily imagine the band just having a jam where every couple of minutes they simply try to drown out everyone else’s instruments with their own. But, such is the way for the Jesus Lizard. This manic streak is a core aspect of their DNA and it is by no means a bad thing. It provides great contrast with their more atmospheric build ups and also sets them apart from many other acts that were springing up at the height of the grunge movement who’s dynamics were often just a carbon copy of the Pixie’s verse, massive chorus, verse routine. This craziness in their music and their attitude actually makes them quite a fun band to listen to.
Aside from this, their quieter moments are also worthy of mentioning. Down is littered with roomy bass grooves where the guitar intertwines over the top creating some great atmosphere, before eventually cascading into the massive, hyperactive choruses that define the Jesus Lizard’s sound. Album opener Fly On The Wall is a great example of this with a brilliant bass groove to kick the album off before the rest of the band lends their contributions to the ensuing slab of manic rock. Down, in a sentence is a sludgy, atmospheric, fuzzed out, heavy punk/grunge album. It borrows a little Fugazi style atmosphere here and a touch of Buzz Osborne attitude there, but it still stands on it’s own for originality.
It may not be the Jesus Lizard’s greatest work, but it is still a rewarding listen for fans of ‘90s alt rock and grunge bands. If, like myself, you see it sitting around cheap in a second hand store then consider buying it. It is a very worthy addition to any ‘90s grunge/punk/alt collection.