Relaxing With The Heads
, November 18th, 2010 06:51
As commendable as It Might Get Loud, Davis Guggenheim’s 2008 documentary saluting the electric guitar, was, I’m personally holding out for the inevitable documentaries about the other two stations of rock’n’roll’s holy trinity – I’m talking about the amps and the pedals. Six strings and a hollow or solid body don’t mean a thing without the electrified muscle to send that din ringing and any manner of gizmodical doohickage to give a clean clang of guitar the sludgy growl or warped wow/flutter wah or disorienting phase to take our junk to some further level.
Back In The Day, ol’ Link Wray punctured his speaker cone with an ice-pick to give his ‘Rumble’ the feral fury that made it godlike. A decade or so later, Jimi Hendrix made a high art of the FX pedal’s sonic alchemy, coaxing visions of hallucinatory psychedelic abandon, watery dystopian futures and placid waves of angelic peace. The Heads, meanwhile, used a phalanx of din-mutating gadgetry to build a titanic beast of purest sound, which they sent pounding brutish fists downwards to dismantle the very core of the Earth.
As their reissued 1996 debut album so gleefully proves, The Heads’ DNA was a hybrid code with its origins in the motorik chem-rock of Spacemen 3, in the scuzz-scoured rave-ups of Mudhoney, the drug-soaked bacchanalia of Monster Magnet. They weren’t heavy metal, per se, but given their evolved-to-bluntly-devastating riffage, The Heads were crushingly heavy, unabashedly metallic. Opener ‘Quad’ – a setlist staple they’ve latterly slowed down to a molasses-gargling-Sabbath sloth, to cochlea-flattening effect – pounces from a lair of drone with a riff that’s mercilessly efficient, that’s viciously funky, that’s focused upon sending any clued-in head in the vicinity to neck-snap thrash. If you got this riff drunk, it’d let you finger the Deep Purple patch on the pocket of its denim jacket and regale you with tales of sulphate and whiskey in the crowd at 1981’s Heavy Metal Holocaust Festival.
This is kinetic, physical music, and The Heads played like Bristol were some outlying burg in America, and a Drive-In screening of Easy Rider had just given the local hairies some smart ideas. The album is saturated in psychedelic rock ambience, fuzz and wah clinging to the guitars like patchouli to a hippy, but The Heads play their mind-expanding game straight, with no kitsch-y smirks: everything about Relaxing With The Heads is overdriven to the point of glorious excess, vivid and lurid like a Roger Corman Biker B-Movie: cheap and wonderfully nasty, leaving something bitter and fizzy at the back of the throat. It’s not all full-on frenzy and freakouts, but when the four-piece pull back from the melee and the maw, it’s only to set the right tension for the next coming explosion (a game the Bond theme-ish 'U33' plays devilishly well).
This is no 1969 pastiche, however perfectly Stoogian the Heads’ rockidge. The Heads totally fit a lineage of underground noise-rock then fermenting in America, echoes of Butthole Surfers’ disorientating assault and Sonic Youth’s guitar-reinvention heard in their feedbacking chem.-trails. Singer/guitarist Simon Price doesn’t affect a faux-yank snarl, though: his deadpan Brit spiel is chillingly in command of the frazzled noise-outs, like pulling up alongside a car hurtling dangerously about the motorway, and gazing into the eyes of its driver to find him entirely calm and focused on his business. As the epic ‘Widowmaker’ leans into another bloody-minded fuselage of strobing riffage, with every possible needle surged deep into the red, you imagine dead-eyed Price leading them into their suicide mission into noise-rock nirvana, savouring the delicious chaos.
The Heads arrived to British rock music scene destabilised by the pristine nostalgiafest of Britpop; in a crowd of Fred Perry-sporting wannabe-mods and Scally-aping tracksuited young turks, The Heads reeked of diesel and ripped jeans, their decimating drone-rock anticipating the rise of Stoner Rock, the FX-emboldened neon riots of Comets On Fire, the motorik attack of Oneida, the fearless stomp of Part Chimp, but undeniably out of pace with that year’s woeful hopeful crop. They had their champions – live sessions from the Radio 1 Rock Show, Mark Radcliffe and John Peel fill out a lush second disk of rarities and singles – but seem to make more sense now than perhaps they did then; certainly, their subsequent albums (also planned for deluxe reissue in the months to come) took their primordial form and evolved it into an even more swollen and gargantuan thing. Their debut album, however, remains an unassailably searing first statement, a seductive first hit of something that’ll remain a gateway to overdriven psyche-rock oblivion for adventurous listeners.