by Fred Mills
Equal parts hirsute, head-banger-stoner fuh, neo-’70s biker rawk and walk-on-the-wild-side leather-boy punk, Sweden’s Turbonegro disbanded in ’98, just a few months before their masterpiece Apocalypse Dudes saw release (in this country, jointly issued by Sympathy and the late, great Man’s Ruin). Apparently the flamboyantly unhinged vocalist Hank Von Helvete needed to take a “dude, interrupted” sabbatical, although by that point the six-piece had cum, seen and conquered, leaving behind four memorable platters whose stature would grow over the next few years in the wake of celebrity testimonials from the likes of Dave Grohl, Rocket From the Crypt, Queens of the Stone Age, Steve Albini and Jello Biafra. Last summer, Helvete having wrapped up his funny farm chores, the band got back together; a new album, Scandinavian Leather, featuring artwork by Klaus “Revolver” Voorman, is due out next month. It’s timely, given the current Scandinavian rock (Hives, Soundtrack of our Lives, Hellacopters, Division of Laura Lee, International Noise Conspiracy, etc.) invasion. Equally timely are the two reissues at hand.
Ass Cobra first reared its shiny head in ’96. Given that Turbonegro’s capacity for shtick-shoveling is an entire discussion in itself, I’ll restrict my non-musical comments other than to note that it’s kinda hard to overlook the album’s Tom of Finland-meets-Pet Sounds sleeve art, singer Helvete’s nekkid-with-python center photo spread and song titles such as “I Got Erection,” “Sailor Man” and that tender ode to forbidden love, “The Midnight NAMBLA.” In a nutshell, then, the band’s punk-hardcore roots are rigidly on display here: the power-charged “Denim Demon” not only sounds like a speeded-up Ramones romp, it quotes from Patti Smith’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Nigger”; “A Dazzling Display of Talent” could pass for an outtake from Australian thug-punkers the Cosmic Psychos; and the feral vocal growl and “my generation sucks” sentiments of “Hobbit Motherfuckers” makes you long for the glory days of Black Flag. Throw in a stiff dose or two of venereal rocker G.G. Allin and you’ve just about got it.
Apocalypse Dudes is where the pedal hits the metal, a jackbooted blast from the near-past that references all of the above and more, including the Village People, judging from the band photos which, aside from Helvete’s inexplicably swapping his mustachio’d cabana-boy image for a more lurid King Diamond look, are a study in sailor, cowboy and construction. Not too many Indians in Sweden, one s’poses — chic. Every song’s a swaggering winner, from the fiery “Search and Destroy” knockoff “Self Destructo Bust” and the Ramones (“I Just Want to Have Something to Do”)-meets-Alice Cooper (“I’m Eighteen”) thrasher “Get It On,” to the brutally efficient, Blue Öyster Cult-styled anthemism of “Rock Against Ass” and the rump-riding Judas Priest/ Quiet Riot stylings of “Rendezvous With Anus.” And while I’m somewhat loathe to parse too many lines — what can be said, after all, about a passage like “Fornicator of the lasso/ Sperminator of the asshole/ Prince of the rodeo”? — there’s still something refreshingly Spinal Tap-ish going on that no lover of rock arcana can resist. Consider: over-the-top, neo-orchestral album opener “The Age Of Pamparius,” with its “Back In Black” riffage and “whoah-woah-ohh!” massed chanting, sounds like the kind of fist-pumping arena crud that fueled many a teen rebel anthem back in the day. By ’99, however, complaining about being stuck behind the counter at a fast-food joint was what passed for rebellion, as Turbonegro’s incisive lyric study suggests: “So you think you had a pepperoni/ So you think you had a calzone/ So you thought you could make your own/ So you thought you could take it home/ Apocalypse dudes got nothing to lose/ Gonna bake a mother-fucking pizza tonight!” Amen. Pass the Parmesan.
E-mail Fred Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.