Review Summary: Chapter 7: Selling out with style.
With the grunge revolution and Nirvana’s popularity now in full swing, it was the time for all of Kurt Cobain’s favorite artists to get their gross, shit-encrusted feet in the proverbial door. An important thing to note, though, is that making a record that landed on Cobain’s top 100 didn’t guarantee you chart crossover - after all, Daniel Johnston and Shonen Knife never got top 40 hits - so groups like the Surfers’ still had to make quite a few concessions to popular trends if they wanted to expand their horizons. And, while it’s not their peak in terms of popularity, Independent Worm Saloon
’s success is nothing to sneeze at - Number 154 on the Billboard 200, Number 6 on the Billboard Heatseekers, and “Who Was In My Room Last Night？” was a minor hit on the Modern Rock charts. But what’s so impressive about Worm Saloon
isn’t how popular it got, it’s how well the Surfers integrated their eccentricities into alternative rock without sacrificing quality. If anything, it reinvigorated their sound.
finds the Surfers at their catchiest, most anthemic, and most presentable (it was produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones for Christ’s sake), but not quite out of their comfort zone. Anyone who bought this for “Who Was In My Room Last Night？” will surely be in for a surprise when they hear the sonic fuckery featured on the helium-vocaled “The Annoying Song,” the bizarrely groovy “Alcohol,” or the putrid, vomit soaked “Clean It Up.” But still, the general vibe of this album isn’t deranged, inbred noise rock; its punchy, overdrive-heavy rockers (“Strawberry,” “Dust Devil,“ “Dog Inside Your Body”) and the occasional acoustic song (“Naked Man,” most of “The Wooden Song”). But, unlike most attempts to cash in on popular trends in music, this record is incredibly and surprisingly tight, with fluid jock jams and bangers made for one’s driving playlist. But still, its weird after hearing all of the bullshit this band pulled before signing to Capitol, isn’t it？ The guitar solos are technically proficient, the sonic effects play more to building strong songs, the band is co-operating in a traditionally rock ‘n’ roll way, these are all traditional concessions actively avoided in the past. Say what you will about the past Surfers’ records, the last descriptor to pop in your head would be “meat and potatoes.”
But this dish of meat and potatoes is one of the better plates this diner ever served. In other words: Independent Worm Saloon
is easily one of the standouts in this very long discography, especially if you dig that dingy 90’s alt-rock sound. There’s something especially good about this one though, it’s alt-rock through the lense of Gibbytronix, years of drug (ab)use, and a band that seemed way too strange for anything close to crossover success. Even this album, seemingly carried by the MTV play and commercial use of “Who Was In My Room？,” feels like more of an underground hit, with its eclecticisms and the frantic-as-always vocals, but here it was, the Surfers as minor fluke rockstars. The mere fact that a band with a sodomy joke for a name was on the Billboard chart proves just how fertile that time period was for airplay.
But, no matter how much this seemed like a fluke, this wouldn’t be the end of the public’s glimpse into the Butthole…