Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Making A Scene: A Look At The New 4-CD Collection From The Scientists

The Scientists were a bunch of misfits. In an era of new wave, they were Stooges fans. Impeccably dressed, the Kim Salmon-fronted outfit married a certain sartorial sense with a completely dirty sound. Collected on the superbly-assembled new set A Place Called Bad, out Friday from Numero Group, the music from the peak years of The Scientists was part Bad Seeds, part Standells. This voluminous 80-song, 4.5-hour box set assembles the very best, nearly complete work of the Perth, Australia-originating group. Casual fans will now be hardcore ones, while newcomers to The Scientists will surely be rabid converts with one listen to this monster of a comp.

Collecting the releases (largely) featuring the classic line-up of Kim Salmon (vocals/guitar), Boris Sujdovic (bass), Tony Thewlis (guitar), and Brett Rixon (drums), A Place Called Bad also showcases some earlier iterations of The Scientists. Discs 1 - 3 cover the studio releases while Disc 4 is a previously unavailable live recording from 1985 or so. But for me at least, it's the earlier stuff that still captivates.

Diving into Disc 1, a listener is assaulted with bad intent: "Frantic Romantic" is like something out of a beach movie, all attitude and Erich Von Zipper-braggadocio set to simple chords, while "Girl" and "I'm Looking For You" are similar Big Beat era-styled throwback rockers. It's worth noting that 2 future members of Hoodoo Gurus (James Baker and Ian Sharples) are on this set and stuff like "Making A Scene" and "Walk The Plank" crank with the sort of hip nods to the Sixties that the Gurus did so well. Catchy and uniformly perfect, all the cuts from The Scientists (1981), collected whole on Disc 1, are fine, fun gems of the sort of alt-rock few make anymore. That The Scientists would change styles a bit after this is okay as their eventual morphing into something closer to Nick Cave's Boys Next Door is a worthy artistic progression of its own.

By the time they got around to performing tunes like "Swampland" and "Blood Red River", Kim Salmon had steered the group firmly in the direction of the sounds of The Gun Club and Nick Cave. It is not an overstatement to say that one simply can't escape the fact that a lot of this peak period Scientists material echoes those other acts. Touring with The Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees in the era, stuff like "Solid Gold Hell" and "If It's The Last Thing That I Do" surely would have gone over well with those goth crowds since both cuts -- and so many on Discs 2 and 3 of this set -- have a genuine sense of the sinister about them. Having shed the Nuggets-era influences for the most part -- "It Came Out Of The Sky" being a notable exception -- and moved further in the direction of the sort of style that would eventually influence everyone from The Cult to the grunge pioneers, The Scientists were charting their own path in an era that was surely unfriendly to grotty, attitude-infused rock like this.

And, despite their flirtations with goth, a tag which seemed largely due thanks to their tour-mates in the era (Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy), The Scientists were doing something much more interesting than some of the other acts saddled with that unfortunate label. On a track like "Atom Bomb Baby" a listener can hear about 5 genres slamming up against each other with the overall effect being every bit as good as the best bits from The Gun Club, an act that The Scientists seemed to feel a certain kinship with. On the positively riotous "Temple Of Love", Salmon and the group sound like they are preaching the end of the world, the music clattering behind them in a souped-up amalgam of Fifties tropes -- think Eddie Cochran doing Birthday Party numbers. Elsewhere, on "Braindead" and the superb "Human Jukebox" the sound is closer to pioneers The Cramps. If anything The Scientists were doing the same thing as that lot, only a bit louder and without the sense of camp that plagued late-period releases from Lux Interior, Poison Ivy, and that crew; even a cover of "You Only Live Twice" is delivered straight-faced, the sound like something out of a Dracula movie more than it is the sexy sleek lines of a James Bond theme single. The Scientists spent their lifetime as a group channeling the things they loved into something infectious and dirty. For the most part, they were entirely successful as most of A Place Called Bad illustrates very well.

This box set closes with a disc's worth of live cuts, culled largely from the mid-Eighties, I believe, and a listener is given another window through which to view The Scientists. Live, the band married their love of Bad Seeds and Stooges sides with a driving sense of performance ("Strangers In The Night") that is remarkably ferocious. On live versions of tracks like "Blood Red River" and "Slow Death" one can even detect traces of influences as disparate as early Joy Division and The Buzzcocks, respectively. Still, The Scientists operated largely outside of the genres of the day and if they were indeed cribbing riffs from those 2 legends of the first post-punk wave in the U.K., they were nicking the cool bits and not aligning themselves so much with that generation of Brit proto-New Wavers. In the end, it was what sounded cool, what looked cool that worked so well with The Scientists and their music and presentation.

The victims of label reissues and clueless repackagings of their own material, The Scientists got a raw deal in the Eighties and if anything A Place Called Bad should re-write the picture we have of The Scientists prior to 1987's Weird Love at least. As complete as can be expected given the seemingly never-ending stream of offerings of the band's early catalog, this 4-CD set offers up 80 tracks and hours and hours of marvelous Rock and Roll in the purest, truest sense. Perhaps now the music of The Scientists will be spoken of in the same breath with that of The Birthday Party, The Cramps, and The Gun Club. History is being fixed with the release of A Place Called Bad and, thankfully, The Scientists will now get the sort of serious attention they always deserved. Fans of everything from grubby Nuggets one-offs to Nick Cave's early act, The Boys Next Door, will find a moment to love here, if not dozens of them. Play this as loud as possible until the paint peels off the wall and the neighbors pound on the door. And when the cops show up and you toss a match behind you to burn the house down as you're dragged in cuffs towards the paddy wagon, let A Place Called Bad be the soundtrack. The Scientists would love to be the house band for such a moment, I'm sure. Bad eggs all and thank goodness for that!

A Place Called Bad by The Scientists is out Friday via the Numero Group.