Butthole Surfers

Humpty Dumpty LSD (Latino Buggerveil)

My landlord knew a drug dealer in high school. The dealer had a bunch of acid stashed in his sock. It was a hot day. His feet got sweaty, and he absorbed most of the blotter. After a week in the emergency room, the guy was still wild-eyed, queasy and confused — chattering like Hitler in an air-raid bunker.

Through similar feats of chemical excess, the Butthole Surfers altered the course of the American punk underground by charging headlong into the darkest regions of its psychedelic heart. Guitarist Paul Leary once described the band as making "music to drool into a bucket to." But filth, scatology and autopsies take a band only so far. Tastes change. And after 10 years of dedicated dementia and a few strobe-induced seizures, the legendary Lone Star dirtbags let the major labels give 'em a good, long scrub. The band has laid two consecutive FM-friendly turds in recent years: 1995's Electriclarryland and 2001's equally disappointing, techno-flavored Weird Revolution, released on Hollywood. Goodbye, slaughterhouse aesthetic; hello, mildly deviant, drive-time chart-topper.

Now the once-mighty Surfers are marauding their hope chests for an indie garage sale of odds and ends. (Take that, Wal-Mart.) Spending the better part of a decade in one communal studio after another, Gibby Haynes and the gang have amassed a sizable backlog: 278 tapes' worth of rarities, wrack and refuse (enough to choke a Pussyhorse!). Much of that material will be released in a nameless series of hits and misses, which — one presumes — the band is hoping to parlay into a decent nest egg.

But while Humpty Dumpty LSD, the first of several volumes, gets off on the right foot, it suffers enough lapses in form and content to keep it from ever eclipsing the best stuff from the band's heyday, including 1987's repulsively cohesive Locust Abortion Technician. Admittedly, when it comes to separating masterworks from the merely trip-worthy, Butthole connoisseurs might as well argue the merits of Windowpane over Liquid Sunshine. Rest assured: The old Surfer sound and spirit is there — in spades.

"Night of the Day" literally falls asleep after stumbling out of the gates — the narrator actually snores instead of sings — while somebody leans absent-mindedly on the pitch controls, and crispy bursts of flatulence tickle the senses. Standout tracks "One Hundred Million People Dead" and "Dadgad" fight against themselves impressively, barrel-rolling as hard forward as they do backward in relentless displays of audio back-masking and shape-shifting racket. "I Love You Peggy," which honors Buddy Holly less than it does Sam Kinison, stands alone as an impressive feat of sustained histrionics. "Day of the Dying Alive" — a germinal rendering of Hairway to Steven's "Jimi" — returns to the familiar, festering womb of yesteryear. So do "Eindenhoven Chicken Masque," "Hetero Skeleton" and "Space II" — all instrumental exercises in psychedelic research and development. "Just a Boy" and "I Hate My Job" (the earliest tracks, recorded shortly after the band's inception in 1982) are enthusiastic but fledgling tributes to Joe Strummer's acne. Less blemished, thankfully, is a long, meandering groove called "All Day," which features guest vocalist Daniel Johnston, then a choirboy of 28.

Bleak overall but somehow funny, Humpty straddles the wall with a reckless precision before discovering gravity — a fitting metaphor for today's 'holes, who find themselves sifting through a storybooked past after seven years of lackluster output. And like the fabled Mr. Dumpty, the band not only has left behind a curious trail of vitelline slime, but a few unanswered crime-scene questions: Were they pushed? Or did they fall by themselves?

 
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