NEW WAVE PUNK ASSHOLE- Steve Turner and his Bad Ideas (Funhouse/Reverberation)
I was recently on a plane from my home city of Melbourne to Canberra, a place where I lived and worked for a couple of years in the mid-1990s, and where I learned the slippery ropes of the modern bureaucratic environment. With the plane at a cruising altitude, and the announcement piped through the plane PA permitting patrons to use electronic devices (as an aside, years ago I was told to turn my cassette player off during descent, which caused me to worry about the minute sensitivities of the plane electronics – surely modern electronics are not so precious as to be vulnerable to distant and trivial magnetic forces?), I put my Sony headphones into my ears (no iPods or analogous devices have been permitted in my house yet) and listened to the new album from Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner and his Bad Ideas, New Wave Punk Arsehole.
It was a serendipitous choice. My destination in Canberra was a strategic planning day. And, yes, it was likely to be as turgid and awful as that simple description implies. Visions, Missions, Performance Indicators, the whole shitty box and dice. My colleagues and I had been hoping the day would be cancelled right up until the moment Qantas called us onto board the plane, but it was to no avail. So when Steve Turner opened up with “No-one gives a shit” – with its telling refrain “no-one gives a shit what I do, so I’ll do it anyway”, I knew I had the soundtrack for the day. Of course, Turner was probably talking about the artistic vagaries of punk rock, not strategic planning – but who cares? Artistic meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
Mudhoney has always been a favourite band of mine. I remember seeing them on their first Australian tour in 1990 (or was it 1989), after Bruce Milne had prophetically released the band’s early material on AuGoGo. Mudhoney were the intellectual cousins to the proto-slacker grunge of Nirvana. Mark Arm and Steve Turney might’ve played the part of dumb slackers, but they were never as stupid as they made out, or their lyrics suggested. While it’s Arm’s monotonous screaming drawl that characterises the surface of most Mudhoney tunes, it’s Turner’s scathing fuzzed out punk rock riffs that fuels the best of the band’s music.
Turner’s solo work has been afforded a lower profile than his Mudhoney output, yet it’s no less compelling. Turner has been prone to a more country tone in his solo guise, the sort of country tone you’d expect if a ranch worker stumbled off into the Californian desert and lived for a year on a diet of peyote and prairie animals. On New Wave Punk Arsehole, however, Turner is – as the title (backed up by the title track itself) suggests – in punk rock mode. Turner’s philosophical attitude is typically nihilistic and narcissistic – “Reject the Future”, “Everyone’s an Ex”, “Somewhere I Have Some Friends”, “The Party’s Over” – but his musical attitude sparkles with attitude. “Reject the Future” is the answer to the specious 60s idealism of 40 years ago, with a musical tone drawn straight from the inbred backblocks of Washington State. “Sex Date Saturday Night” is the fuzz rock version of a B-grade Hollywood t’n’a movie, while the stripped back “Paula” is disturbingly earnest – maybe a prime time, sanitised version of “Here Comes Sickness”.
Turner’s love of the errant complexities of garage noise is never more evident than in “Off Ramp to Nowhere”, his sense of the bizarre obvious in “Bonzai Against Nature” and his complete piss-taking attitude for all the wall to see and hear in “Stupid Blues”. For something a bit different there’s “Pushing Up Daisies”, in which Turner (probably subconsciously) finds himself messing around in the same territory as the New Christs’ “Born Out of Time”, the surf-garage whimsy of “Somewhere I Have Some Friends of Mine” and straight out moronic garage rock silliness of “Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby”. And for a lazy coda there’s “The End of the Song”, a tongue-in-cheeck soft rock end to a potent punk rock narrative.
If there’s a criticism to be made it’s the reach of Turner’s voice, the tone of a man just slightly out of match practice – if only compared to his punk rock prowess. But it’s a minor criticism – I’d listen to Steve Turner, anyway, anywhere, anyhow.- Patrick Emery
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