Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Music Review: Motorpsycho - Timothy's Monster (Deluxe Edition)
In 1994, Norway’s Motorpsycho released one of the greatest “unheard” albums of all time, Timothy’s Monster. It was a double CD/triple LP affair on a tiny Norwegian label, and never had much of a chance. In an act of either unprecedented hubris, or simple commercial suicide, independent Rune Grammofon Records have doubled-down on Timothy‘s Monster with this 4-CD box set. It is a lot of things, not the least of which is being one of the coolest retrospective packages ever.
With all due respect, Motorpsycho originally belonged on Sub Pop. When they formed in 1989, their mix of post-hardcore punk and seventies rock was a style that would eventually come to be known as grunge. Just like Mudhoney, they took their name from a classic Russ Meyer film. Even the flannel shirts and heavy boots they wore put them in line with their Seattle brethren.
Although Motorpsycho were musical lumberjacks who had much in common with the Sub Pop bands of the time, their isolation was nearly total. So while the rest of the world became enamored of grunge, Motorpsycho’s music progressed at a pace all its own. Timothy’s Monster was their third album, and is a remarkably diverse collection of styles. By playing what they wanted, the band came up with music that was miles ahead of what the rest of the rock world was doing. It was also a very obvious inspiration to both Billy Corgan and Wayne Coyne, two of the most celebrated artists of the era.
The strummed acoustic guitar of “Feel” sets the stage perfectly for the tour de force to follow. From there “Trapdoor” opens into a world both inviting and forbidding. The irresistible hook at the heart of the song gives way to a frighteningly powerful guitar solo midway, then returns triumphantly. This give and take is a common musical theme throughout the album, but is by no means the only one.
Track five, “Kill Some Day,” is where the first flashes of indisputable brilliance shine through. For many self-described “Psychonauts” the feedback-drenched tune is the band at their absolute peak. It is an unforgettable riff that finds our heroes valiantly carrying on the punk torch dropped long before by such greats as The Replacements and Husker Du. The song makes one wonder at what might have been, had the rest of the world heard it at the time.
There are plenty of other moments like this as well. “Wearing Yr Smell,” “Giftland,” and “Watersound” all reward repeated listens. “Giftland” in particular takes the listener in a proto-Goth direction, reminding me of a band they may or may not have been familiar with, Manchester’s Crispy Ambulance. Closing out the first disc is “Watersound,” an acoustic/electric powerhouse that sums up what had come before in a most satisfying way.
If Timothy’s Monster ended there, it would still be considered a little-known classic. But the four songs on the second disc take the record into a whole new realm. At 17 minutes, “The Wheel” changed Timothy’s Monster completely. The band had actually already recorded and settled on the running order of the original single-CD version of the album, before heading out on a short tour.
“The Wheel” was written and recorded during the tour, and it represented a major departure for them. The drone Motorpsycho have come to be known for defines this monolithic slab of sound. The song recalls the sinister organ of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” at times, all the while building up to an explosion not unlike that of Television’s “Marquee Moon.” It is a remarkably hypnotic reverie, and the acoustic “Sungravy” that follows comes as a necessary moment of relief.
The respite passes quickly, though, as the most intense four minutes of Motorpsycho’s career are up next, in the aptly titled “Grindstone.” From there we reach the end of Timothy’s Monster, and the gorgeous 13-minute “The Golden Core.” I am reminded of the sun coming up after a particularly eventful evening with this piece. Yet the feedback squalls in the final moments hint at even more layers hidden somewhere in the complexities of this incredible album. It makes you want to start the whole trip again, to see if you missed anything the first time around.
They always knew how appropriate an ending “The Golden Core” was for their magnum opus, as it would have been in the same position in the original running order. The reason I know that “The Golden Core” was to be the final track is that the third disc is the unreleased first edition of Timothy’s Monster.
It was to contain 13 tracks total, of which two did not make the final cut, “Very 90’s, Very Aware” and “Innersfree.” Both are interesting, but not necessarily great losses, especially in contrast to what was added, “The Wheel,” “Feel,” “Wearing Yr Smell,” and “Beautiful Sister.”
The fourth disc is titled “The Ones That Got Away: B Sides and Outtakes.” That old Who title Odds And Sods has never been a more apt description of what is contained on this CD. Showing their range of interests in no uncertain terms, there are covers of Ace Frehley's “Shock Me,” Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Working For MCA,” and “New Day Rising” by Husker Du.
A number of Timothy’s songs appear in edited versions, and some previously unreleased tracks are also included. The weirdest has to be “Mr. Butterclut Goes To The Fair, Meets The Viscount, And That’s Where We Leave Him At The End Of This Episode…” Motorpsycho’s debt to The Grateful Dead is acknowledged with the very cool “Giftland Jam.”
Timothy’s Monster is a record that came out a long time ago, yet still feels fresh today. That may be because it was so far ahead of its time, or perhaps because it is just so damned good. Whatever the case may be, it is an album a lot of people (myself included) did not hear the first time around. For those so inclined, it is highly recommended.