Review Summary: When alternative meant something
The decadent jazzy din of The Jesus Lizard stands as evidence that, once upon a time, "indie" wasn't a codeword for bedwetter music, and "alternative" once meant something at all.
Head, while arguably falling microscopically short of the track-by-track excellence of Liar and Goat, is the best studio translation of the band's live performance, which took the liveshow-as-a-religious-ritual philosophy of The Stooges and The Birthday Party to its logical conclusion. In its own seedy way, the album's atmosphere is about as hazy, layered and abstract as something like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, but through subtle methods executed in one take (unconventional song structures, David Yow drifting in and out of coherency, bizarre chording, palm muting and use of harmonics) rather than just smearing pedal effects everywhere. The only word I can think of to describe Duane's guitarwork is "swashbuckling." They're like riffs an unusually talented pirate would come up with, very classically influenced, but in a way that's in total servitude to the songs' debauched atmosphere. That haunting winding tremolo picked bridge after that buildup of carnivalesque arpeggios in "If You Had Lips" makes it obvious that TJL could have been the best metal band on earth if they wanted to, but instead they chose to be the best rock band. And when David Yow moans "will ya bury me?" with that hacking and wheezing--goosebumps.
Speaking of Mr. Yow, contrary to popular belief he always came up with melodic and nuanced vocal patterns, it's just that rather than playing them straight he skirted the edges, snarling, moaning & gurgling through them and letting your dumb mushy brain sorta "fill in the blanks." His rhythmic swagger is like a mutant take on 50s rock, and his lyrics are like redneck Baudelaire, an expressionistic patchwork of morbid and childlike imagery that's scary precisely because it's not meant to be.
"Good Thing" is the ultimate subversion in rock music: a sex song without the sleaze or machismo or even the romance, looping it into something that doesn't even really seem like a sex song at all. It's just an innocent ode to the id. The only tune I'm not totally old on is "Waxeater," a failed vocal experiment on Yow's part, whose weirdo quasi-rap huffing now comes across as overly 90s. Of course, anyone who listened to college radio back then could tell you how great the guitar line in "Pastoral" is, one of those rare mysterious riffs that somehow brings to mind exactly what the song is about. (A corpse in a field, by the way. What's wrong with writing a song about that?)
Most copies of this album come with the Pure EP, a rather weird start for the band, sounding something like a superior take on Big Black (and I don't say superior lightly here). With or without the Pure bonus tracks, Head is one of the best albums of the 90s, even if it takes civilization another few decades to realize it.