Artist: Butthole Surfers
Label: Touch & Go
Producer: Butthole Surfers
Cover art: Arthur Sarnoff
‘KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD,’ says the slogan on t-shirts and bumper stickers in the Texas capital, an attempt by local businesses to promote the city’s quirky charms. But in 1987, there was something far stranger brewing in a house on the northern border of Austin than the city’s citizens could ever have imagined. Locust Abortion Technician is an album of such singular peculiarity that its mere existence has made the entire world, let alone Austin, a much stranger place.
Work on the album actually began in Atlanta, Goergia, where the band spent their spare time stalking REM’s Michael Stipe. After a European tour, the Butthole Surfers relocated to Austin. Turning their newly rented abode into a studio with outmoded eight-track equipment, the band now had unlimited freedom and plenty of time for casual chemical inspiration between takes. The resulting album sounds like their earlier material has been slowed down, played backwards, and smothered in toxic waste, with a herd of cows walking through it. Butthole Surfers albums had always been heavily processed with psychedelic effects; but almost everything here is so warped and wrong-sounding as to be downright alien. Jeff Pinkus’ bass churns a foul sludge and Paul Leary’s guitar melts your synapses, while Haynes turns himself into a walking, talking schizophrenic episode using the considerable bank of effects he’d nicknamed ‘Gibbytronix’. Parodying every stadium rock band ever, “Human Cannonball” begins with Haynes’ echo-plexed screech of ‘are you ready to rock, then rock on!’ followed by his wordless Texas wail, which is first pitched down to a deep rumble and then taken up into a high, piercing whine like an insect or siren. And that might actually be the most straightforward song on the album.
Locust Abortion Technician rocks, but it does so like a retarded hillbilly from a backwoods horror movie. It opens with “Sweet Loaf”, a deconstruction of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” that forgoes the original’s lyrics about the joys of weed for a sonic recreation of hallucinogenic madness – all unintelligible muttering and demented laughter. “Pittsburgh to Lebanon” is a blues trudger so knuckle-dragging it makes The Stooges sound like a prog band, while “The O-Men” pounds along with a raging thrash riff, its choruses punctuated by what sounds like a glass bottle being pulverized in a garbage-disposal unit. Leary provides some of his most acid-fried, Funkadelic soloing on songs like “Weber” and “Graveyard”, while on “U.S.S.A” his guitar moans and howls like it’s protesting under torture. Here Haynes sounds like he’s finally lost it for good, shrieking the song title over and over like a paranoid lunatic being run over by a lawnmower while someone continually squeezes a balloon in his ear.
The Butthole Surfers didn’t muster many actual songs for the record – “Graveyard” even appears twice in different renditions – but its mutant rock numbers are bolstered by some demented tape experiments. “Kuntz” is a recording of a traditional Thai folk song, looped and folded over itself to sound like the artist is repeating the song’s profane title. And “Hay” – not to be confused with their earlier song, “Hey” – sounds like a herd of cows being sucked into a vacuum, but is actually the album’s final song, “22 Going on 23”, played backwards. “22 Going on 23” is warped enough in its own right. Its menacing bass-line lumbers along like the Frankenstein monster’s slower cousin while a radio talk-show caller describes how she’s unable to sleep after being sexually assaulted – the fact she was notorious for calling the show with fanciful stories every night makes the experience no less nightmarish.
Included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Locust Abortion Technician truly needs to be heard to be believed. It summarises everything that’s magnificent and terrible about the Butthole Surfers: their bad-taste humour and plain old bad taste, and their ability to wrest unforgettable musical moments from the most noxious sonic garbage. One of the most enduring of these moments begins the album: after an eerie, childlike voice asks what regret means, Gibby, in his finest father-knows-best impression, provides the advice that ‘it’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done’. It’s a motto that the Butthole Surfers lived by, and there is perhaps no finer testament to their uninhibited approach to life and music than Locust Abortion Technician.
- “Sweat Loaf” – 6:09
- “Graveyard” – 2:27
- “Pittsburgh to Lebanon” – 2:29
- “Weber” – 0:35
- “Hay” – 1:50
- “Human Cannonball” – 3:51
- “U.S.S.A.” – 2:14
- “The O-Men” – 3:27
- “Kuntz” – 2:24
- “Graveyard” – 2:45
- “22 Going on 23” – 4:23
Listen on Spotify
Also check out…
- Butthole Surfers – Psychic Powerless… Another Man’s Sac (1984)
- Butthole Surfers – Rembrandt Pussyhorse (1986)
- Butthole Surfers – Hairway to Steven (1988)
- Butthole Surfers – Humpty Dumpty LSD compilation (2002)