The Jesus Lizard, Underground Rock Heroes, Surface With a New Album


Yow couldn’t contain his laughter when recounting a Parisian scatological mishap that inspired a portion of “Moto(R),” one of several hard-driving rockers on the album’s back half. (“I had had some French coffee, and I had to poo,” he said.) And discussing “Lord Godiva” — the only song on “Rack” with roots in the band’s ’90s era, which comes complete with a beautifully beefy Sims bass solo — Yow highlighted the perverse misdeeds of its bloodthirsty protagonist. “They’re just so stupid and, I think, really funny,” he said.

As much as “Rack” reprises the time-tested Jesus Lizard formula of pulpy lyrical filth matched with volatile, menacing rock, it also reasserts that the band was far more versatile than thumbnail remembrances often suggest. “What If?” is pure skin-crawling moodcraft, driven by a cold-eyed Sims bass vamp, with Yow showing off his sharpened dramatic chops as he monologues about a widow who turns out to be “kinda crazy,” or worse. “Armistice Day” leans into downtempo doom-blues, offset by Yow’s forlorn-sounding croon and a sparse, piercing Denison lead that Yow said “brings tears to my eyes.”

While the LP has a more polished sound than early Jesus Lizard albums, it maintains an admirable rawness that receded on the two records the band made without Albini in the mid-to-late ’90s. Reached after Albini’s death in May, Yow said that in the band’s early days, he “thought of Steve almost as a fifth member.” He praised the way that Albini had rendered guitar, bass and drums each in the “absolute most intense possible way,” and, his voice choking up, recalled a time when he and the engineer were inseparable, often spending entire days shooting pool together at the Chicago Billiard Cafe.

As documented in “Book,” tensions later arose between the band and Albini, and the parties wouldn’t work together again. But Yow said that he and the engineer “ended up sort of patching things up.” He recalled a recent text exchange where Albini had told him, with typical crude flair, that fans were “going to just [expletive] themselves” when they learned that the Jesus Lizard had made a new album.

Reflecting on “Rack,” Denison said that despite his new status as a senior citizen — recently retired from a day job at a branch of the Nashville Public Library, the guitarist is considering when he ought to start collecting Social Security — he was intent on capturing a certain punk-rock abandon. “I’d like to think it’s always been this balance between the sophistication” and “the non-sophisticated,” he said, “just the pure drive and mayhem.”

McNeilly cited the explosive opening of “Hide and Seek,” which sets the tone for what follows.

“It’s almost like, OK, you’re on a ride now,” the drummer said, “and you’re not going to be able to get off.”



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