Monday, February 5, 2018

I'd Love to Turn You On #198 - The Jesus Lizard – Liar (1992)

In the summer of 1993, I finally mustered up the courage to ask this girl I had been crushing on for a long time out on a date. To my surprise and discomfort, she actually agreed to it. The day of the date, I was so nervous and uneasy I didn’t know what to do. As a fourteen-year-old, I hadn’t exactly been the Casanova that I clearly am now, and I had convinced myself that asking was the hard part. But now I actually had to go on the date and be engaging. I was terrified. Usually, I could put on some music to put myself at ease, but for some reason, nothing in my collection was doing the trick. I decided to head down to the coffee shop where I was supposed to meet her. I was early but there was a record store downstairs in the basement of the building, so I figured I’d kill some time beforehand with my favorite pastime, record shopping. (Coincidental side note: This is the same building in which I would eventually open my own record store twenty years later and two floors up.) Anyway, the impending date was still giving me butterflies and I was kind of angry at my music collection for not pulling through for me. So, I decided I was going to buy something new. I picked up a Flaming Lips album I had read about in Alternative Press and a cassette copy of Liar, the newest release by a band I wasn’t familiar with, The Jesus Lizard. I went outside to smoke and put the tape into my Walkman.

I can’t really explain what happened next. One thing is for sure, though. My life was changed indefinitely in that moment. Liar, though it may not be my favorite Jesus Lizard album, will forever be the most important one to me as it was my entry point into their world. You see, musically-speaking, I was a bit torn in the early 1990s. Having grown up to that point as a die-hard metal kid, the newer “grunge” bands (as the radio and MTV were calling them) were killing my beloved’s reign. On the other hand, there was something about the Nirvanas and the Alice in Chainses of the world that I truly could not deny. Still… it seemed like something was missing. I was at a musical crossroads. When I hit play on that Walkman, suddenly I had it figured out. And I do mean suddenly, because right out of the gate, Liar takes off at breakneck speed with “Boilermaker,” perhaps one of the heaviest songs ever written. This segues into “Gladiator” and “The Art of Self-Defense” for a violent one-two-three punch. Side A ends with one of the highlights of the album, the phenomenal “Puss,” which would also later appear on a split 7” with Nirvana.

This was exactly what I was looking for. It was heavy, but it wasn’t metal. It was angular and strange, the guitar tone was bizarre and machine-like, the rhythm section was more precise than anything I’d ever listened to. And then there was Yow. The frontman to end all frontmen. Hoo boy… I don’t even know where to begin describing him. David Yow’s vocal delivery is not so much sung as it is retched at you, hollering with a kind of terrifying urgency about such topics as mental depravity and chemical dependency (yes, there are actual lyrics in there). Yow sounds like a man in trouble. Guitarist Duane Denison’s leads have a personality all their own on this album, ranging from the jackhammer speed of “Rope” to the slow, Slint-like crawl of the album’s closer “Zachariah.”

I just spent two paragraphs describing Liar to you and I still feel as though I haven’t done it (or the band, for that matter) enough justice. The truth is, I’ve never known how to describe The Jesus Lizard. They’re noise-rock, sure, but that label wasn’t even really around when I first discovered this album. In a way, they kind of represented a middle ground between the metal I adored so much as a kid and the “grunge” that inevitably usurped the limelight from them.

In case you’re wondering, the date went really well. I was charming and funny, and I even got to make out with her a little at the end. Had I not bought Liar immediately beforehand, who knows? I may have still been stressed out about the date, pacing back and forth in my room trying to mellow out to my Tool records or something. But any reason that I had for being nervous was out the window the second I heard that first note of “Boilermaker.” I bet I listened to the album three times in a row that day. The Jesus Lizard are one of my all-time favorite bands still, 25 years later, and I feel very fortunate that every time I listen to them I get to recount this story.

-         Jonathan Eagle

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