With two key reissues from Goner already in stores, a DVD documentary arriving this week, and a celebrated appearance at this year’s Gonerfest under their belts, the Aussie noise merchants are enjoying their highest public profile in years.
BY FRED MILLS
In 1985 a Melbourne, Australia, power trio bearing the contradictorily-termed, yet perfectly descriptive, name Cosmic Psychos unleashed their 5-song debut Down On The Farm (via the equally colorfully-named Mr. Spaceman Records), and fans of no-nonsense, primal three-chord yawlp were summarily thrilled right down to their beer-stained Chucks. Fancy some Stooges/MC5 economy riffage? You got it, mate. Partial to the sound of Sabbath/Blue Cheer-esque Marshall overdrive? Have at it, lads. Enamoured of the Ramones’ daily-grind style of lyricism? Here’s three well-endowed right blokes for ya. The band: Ross Knight on bass/vocals; Peter “Dirty” Jones, guitar; Bill Walsh, drums.
The full-length Cosmic Psychos followed in ’87, and by the time of 1989’s Go the Hack no less a North American tastemaker than Sub Pop had gotten involved. Soon to follow would be Amphetamine Reptile, which drafted Butch Vig to handle production chores for Blokes You Can Trust in ’91; frequent tours of Europe and even, occasionally, the U.S., along with several more records; and a gradually declining profile, particularly on these shores, membership changes and the occasional hiatus. Just the same, the Psychos never truly went away, and Knight continues to front the band (he’s joined currently by Dean Muller and John McKeering), even venturing away from his beloved family farm and tractors long enough this year to come play Gonerfest 10 in Memphis and to support the upcoming Nov. 5 release of the Matt Weston-directed documentary Cosmic Psychos: Blokes You Can Trust.
[Go here to read a great September interview with Knight prior to the Gonerfest performance.]
The Gonerfest connection isn’t exactly random: Goner has just reissued the first two records on one disc—it’s a slightly expanded version of the CD that Amphetamine Reptile issued years ago—along with the out of print Go The Hack. And whether you’re an old-schooler like me, who was collecting Australian records and writing about the bands in the mid ‘80s (one of the most entertaining interviews I ever did was with Knight, in fact), or a curious person new to the band’s oeuvre, there’s tuneage a-plenty here to convince you of the Psychos’ brawny brilliance and sheer rawk ‘n’ roll timelessness.
As a track-by-track review would risk simply repeating, ad infinitum, sentences 2-7 in the first paragraph above, perhaps its more appropriate that I just single out a handful of tracks suitable for Spotify-cation. I’ve a hunch that you’ll be rapidly swayed in favor of picking up the full, unfiltered records. In fact, the very first track on the very first release, titled somewhat inscrutably, “Custom Credit,” pretty much sets the stage for everything that is to come after. “Seen you round,” sneers Knight, at some unspecified individual, presumably a female, adding, “Ya drove me up the wall!” Considering the sheer brutality of the riffs that follow, it’s a good thing he and his bandmates are wielding musical instruments and not baseball bats. “Give us some wah-wah, Dirty!” he blurts, and Jones obliges with the filthiest slice of wah-wah this side of Ron Asheton. Ten tracks later, in Cosmic Psychos’ “Rain On You,” Knight is off the rails again, berating some “toothless runt” as the band unleashes a torrent of sonic abuse that’d make even Tony Iommi turn pale. And no commentary on the album would be complete without at least passing mention of the track “David Lee Roth”: while the musical sentiments are far removed from Van Halen, the lyrics (which include the febrile “I wanna be like David Lee Roth/ I want 40 girls to suck me off”), pretty much summon the operative aesthetic.
For Go the Hack the group presumably had a tad more dough to spend on studio time, as the resulting sound was positively massive—it’s everything you might’ve hoped would have come from the vaunted Phil Spector-Ramones marriage, had Spector chosen to emphasize the group’s rock side rather than its pop side. Check “Lost Cause”: 3 ½ minutes of pedal-to-the-metal, four-square thumping, soccer-chant vocals (“she’s a lost cause, she’s a lost-lost cause…”) and three-chord nirvana. And “Pub,” from its so-logical-it’s-hilarious title—yes, that’s what the song is about—to the nifty Sonics-do-Hendrix psychedelic arrangement, is just about the greatest Cosmic Psychos tune… ever!
But don’t take my word for it. Hop in the family bulldozer (see the Hack sleeve art) and drive it down to your local indie record shop. If it ain’t stocking the Psychos records, well… what’s that ‘dozer for anyway, mate?
Postscript: Taking into consideration the original sleeve art for Go the Hack, above, and the obvious connection it has to the sleeve art for the documentary DVD, below; my recent discovery of the 1976 book Psycho-cosmic Symbolism of the Buddhist Stupa still seems like wayyyyy more than a coincidence. How to know if this had any influence on the group’s choice of band name? I’ll have to ask Knight next time we chat. Meanwhile, though, draw your own conclusions from the various images…