Music News

The Scientists

Given the intense fetishism we Americans apply to the early '90s grunge era, it's nothing short of stupefying that the hard-rock subgenre's punk/noize forebears have all but vanished in terms of systematic overhauls and resurrections of the once-significant back catalogues. Sonic Youth and the Birthday Party come to mind among the few whose discographies are readily accessible; when's the last time you even heard someone mention the band Union Carbide Productions? So here's your chance to be reintroduced to Australia's Scientists, a quartet that seemingly came from out of the sky (Perth, on the western edge of the Oz continent, to be exact) and, following a dalliance with rough 'n' ready psychedelic pop, transmogrified by 1982 into one of the most evil, most fetid band of avant-punks ever, equal parts Captain Beefheart, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Stooges and Creedence Clearwater Revival, not to mention heirs to the aural terrorism tradition forged by fellow Aussie Nick Cave and his band, the aforementioned Birthday Party.

In '91, the tastemakers at Sub Pop Records issued a 16-song retrospective of the band, Scientists Absolute (now out of print). To this day, if you ask folks like Mudhoney's Mark Arm or Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, they will look you square in the eye and gravely announce that, yes, the Scientists were the shit. What's remarkable, revisiting the group's epochal swamp-blooze-cum-skronk sound via the 15 tracks of Blood Red River, is how powerful, exhilarating and timeless it remains. (A second volume is in the works that will cover the group's later years, The Human Jukebox 1984-1986.) This current comp brings together the '83 mini-album Blood Red River, a brilliant triad of singles that appeared circa '82-'83, and the Demolition Derby 12-inch EP that was issued in Europe in '84; many of these tracks have never appeared on CD, and they've all been superbly remastered for the digital era.

Highlights? Opening track "Set It on Fire" sounds like a fuzztone guitar fed through a washing machine's spin cycle while vocalist Kim Salmon yelps and yowlps like some 'luded-out '60s punk doing a lousy Mick Jagger impersonation (that's good, by the way). Soon after comes the group's stone classic, "Swampland," bursting with a descending guitar riff to die for, a bass line set on "stomach churn" and bucketfuls of love-as-quicksand metaphors spat from Salmon's lips like jagged crawdad spines. A blistering cover of Beefheart's "Clear Spot" turns up along the way, formerly a hard-to-find B-side. And if you ever wondered what Iggy Pop would've sounded like with Phil Spector producing, the angst-drenched "Murderess in a Purple Dress" is present and accounted for, every tooth-grinding/distorted chord, primal thumpage, banshee grunt, wall-of-sound second of it.

Writes Salmon in his exceedingly colorful and detailed liner notes to Blood Red River, "We believed we were the greatest rock and roll band in the world with absolute conviction and no irony." As did a small but rabid core of Scientists fans across the globe. Hear the music, get a dose of history, and become a believer.

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Fred Mills