Monday, January 16, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #141

Boston seems to have always had an interesting underground music scene.  From the early-70s days of Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers to the barroom punk of The Real Kids; from the skronk-y noise of V; (note: the ";" was part of the band's name) to the hyperspeed hardcore of The Freeze; and currently, from the farfisa-driven garage sound of The Charms to the retro-synthpop sounds of Freezepop.  New York and L.A. can claim all the history and influence they like; there was always something special in the dirty water of Boston. (Just ask The Standells!)

One of the too-often forgotten blips on the early-80s Boston music scene was the fascinating Human Sexual Response.  Formed in 1978 from the remnants of a goofy all-kazoo project (the awesomely-named Kazoondheit) and the semi-serious a capella group Honey Bea & The Meadow Muffins, Human Sexual Response featured a unique band configuration: seven members including a drummer, bass player, guitarist, and four - count them, four! - vocalists.

In their relatively brief existence they issued two albums.  Their debut, Fig. 14, appeared in 1980; In A Roman Mood followed a year later.  Both sport the same pluses and minuses.  Human Sexual Response was a solid band that featured an overflow of creativity and a marked inconsistency in their ability to translate their ideas into enjoyable songs.  When they hit the target, they were incomparable.  Early singles like "What Does Sex Mean To Me?" and "Dolls" are great fun; later material ("Pound," "Andy Fell") is darker but equally catchy.  They scored a minor regional hit with 1980's "Jackie Onassis" ("I wanna be like Jackie Onassis/I wanna wear a pair of dark sunglasses..."), and were club favorites in and around their native Boston.

Unfortunately, when they missed the mark, they could be pretentious, overly theatrical, and frankly boring.  Over both albums they sounded like a band trying to settle on a sound, but never quite finding that comfort zone.  Between the two releases an album's worth of solid material could be culled, so the records are definitely worth picking up, but buyer beware - there are a few clinkers.  In 1991, nine years after the band dissolved, Rykodisc issued a CD titled Fig. 15.  This was the original Fig. 14 album reissued with the addition of the song "Butt Fuck," which they had performed unannounced on a live Boston TV program, Five All Night Live, causing trouble for the band, the show, and the station on which it aired.  It's a perfect encapsulation of where the band went wrong:  the idea of getting away with thumbing their nose at the FCC was far better than the actual song.

But rather than rehash the bad, let's celebrate the good!  This week's NW4NW includes two of Human Sexual Response's best songs.  "Blow Up" incorporates footage of the legendary Tura Satana; "Land Of The Glass Pinecones" is a cult masterpiece ("Their seeds are made of rhinestones... / ...They smash on the grass when the wind blows...").  Enjoy!

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