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The Violent Years


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  • After leaving Glass Records and moving to Creation Records in the late '80s, the Jazz Butcher recorded a brace of fine albums, four of which are collected on 2018's The Violent Years. The band's leader, Pat Fish, embarked on this new venture without recently-gone-solo guitarist Max Eider, but with a vision for big pop songs, epic ballads, and still the occasional moment of eccentricity. The first album released on Creation was 1998's Fishcotheque, and it was an auspicious debut. Working with the Weather Prophets' rhythm section, Fish delivered a batch of tough, taut songs that ranged from the should've-been-a-hit "Next Move Sideways" to the Afro-pop-influenced "Living in a Village," the rollicking rocker "Looking for Lot 49," and the hip-hop-inspired "The Best Way," with a couple of nice ballads to balance them out. The lovely "Susie" even featured some guitar noise from Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom. It was a different feel for the Jazz Butcher, like they had become a "real" band somewhere along the way. The next album, 1989's Big Planet Scarey Planet, furthered that impression with another set of tight, hooky rock songs played by a gig-hardened band. Tracks like "Bicycle Kid" and "New Invention" come off like a bouncier Lloyd Cole; professional and slick, but not lifeless at all. There's still plenty of weirdness mixed in, whether it's the use of found sound samples, the hip-hop beats, or Fish's typically offbeat lyrics. The band didn't change much for 1990's Cult of the Basement. It's still a mix of rollicking pop songs, tough rockers, ballads with sax, and Fish's unique way of looking at the world. The one big addition to the band's sound is the spry guitar work by Alex Lee of the Blue Aeroplanes. Like the previous two albums, there are at least two songs that sound like instant classics, the bopping pop masterpiece "She's on Drugs" and the scathing ballad "Sister Death," which explores deeper lyrical territory than usual. Despite Fish having something of a breakdown before writing the songs, 1991's Condition Blue was more of the same, this time with Peter Astor on board to help out and the usual crack team of backing musicians giving Fish's songs plenty of life. It was another mix of big rockers and big ballads, with the usual giant pop song ("Girls Say Yes") kicking things off. It might be this incarnation of the band's most cohesive album, as it strips away a bit of the oddness in favor of going for the pop jugular at all times. It ends the era on a high note and proves once again that the Jazz Butcher were one of the finest bands of the era, though they didn't get much notice as such at the time. The Violent Years goes a long way toward redressing that minor musical crime, especially when paired with 2017's The Wasted Years collection. ~ Tim Sendra
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