From Punk to Funk
Abnormally Weird Butthole Surfers
By Trev Kelderman
This one word alone could describe Weird Revolution, the new album by Butthole Surfers, but to leave it at that would be grossly inadequate.
Butthole Surfers, originally from Austin, Texas, recorded their first album in 1983, when they were named Ashtray Baby Heads. Soon after that they changed their name to Butthole Surfers, based on one of their early songs about beach transvestites. Originally, the punk music scene greatly influenced them. Ultimately, the combination of blunt humor, explicit lyrics, whining heavy metal guitars, and electronica allowed the Surfers the artistic freedom of not falling under any class of music. It also helped that they were generally indifferent to whether or not people understood what they were actually singing about.
In 1987 and 1988 they recorded their most brilliant albums Locust Abortion Technician and Hairway to Steven, including songs such as "Florida and Sweet Loaf," a version of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf." After signing with Capitol Records, they burst on to the popular radio scene in 1996 with the song "Pepper" from Electriclarryland, while still avoiding selling out to the music industry. The Surfers also decided to record their own bootlegs (or "buttlegs" as they call them), releasing collections of them in three different studio-like albums which are available as mp3s on their website.
Their latest album Weird Revolution combines their punk attitudes with modern studio technology creating an overall more funky sound. The cover alone has a weird prism effect that when moved back and forth, makes the rather jarring image of an alien baby doll zapping a jet fighter. As a whole, every song carries a very apparent dance-like bass beat, scattered with static transmissions and sound effects.
The album begins with a bizarre manifesto of sorts bearing the same name as the album: "Basically, we don't want weirdness from the normal man. We don't want to be freaked out by the normal man. We want to out freak the normal man."
The singles "The Shame of Life" and "Dracula from Houston" are the epitome of Butthole Surfers: solid, experimental rock that evokes strong reactions from its listeners. Probably the strangest track is "The Last Astronaut." It tells the story of an astronaut orbiting above the earth in an exploratory satellite. Through his broken transmission he describes the beautiful site below. But at the end a huge unidentified object appears and crashes into the earth destroying all of humankind. The last track is over twenty minutes long. The first three minutes are a song and then there is blank space until the last fifteen seconds when the Surfers allude to an alien abduction of some kind. I'm not sure exactly why this was done. Normally it would be a trick to sneak something past the record company but the final comments don't seem to be threatening. Maybe they were just expressing some creativity. The discomforting effect isn't lost.
Weird Revolution embodies the punk-indebted Butthole Surfers in its modern funkified beat. They keep their artistic expression to a maximum and their bass rhythms to a minimum. Typical to the Surfers, the listener either loves them or loathes them. Either way, they get a strong reaction.