At first glance, Psychic TV bandleader Genesis P-Orridge would seem a most unlikely champion of nostalgia. As co-founder of trailblazing ’70s noise act Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge became the unwitting progenitor of industrial music—just one of several milestones in a multi-faceted career defined by a rabid dedication to non-conformity. And even when P-Orridge switched from Throbbing Gristle’s collagist technique to song-based structures with the formation of Psychic TV in 1981, the subversive streak remained intact.
On Alienist, P-Orridge and the current incarnation of the band come to celebrate the past. Given P-Orridge’s history of provocation, Psychic TV aren’t interested in preserving anyone’s comfortable idea of the status quo. Nevertheless, the band’s renditions of singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” and ’60s psychedelic outfit the Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel” stay faithful to the sonic character of the original versions. Still, the very act of picking those two tunes expands rather than fortifies the definition of pop music. It also says a lot about the band’s unwillingness to pander to the obvious—even as they play with nothing to prove.
P-Orridge and drummer/producer/band director Edward O’Dowd (formerly of the Toilet Boys) don’t make very many radical alterations. The archetypal ’70s-guitar churn of “Jump Into the Fire,” for example, is panned to the right side of the stereo field, just like in Nilsson’s original. But keyboardist John Weingarten’s left-panned piano rolls burst with color and vibrancy where Nilsson’s merely served as an accompaniment. On both covers, in fact, the band oozes with an unguarded joy that’s downright life-affirming.
The term “rock and roll” all too often functions as a mantra for reinforcing boundaries, shorthand for “Weren’t things better back in simpler times?” The suggestion that the past was somehow better, more innocent and purer lends itself, consciously or not, to conservative social ideals. That Psychic TV can reach to the past without appealing to such regressive attitudes is just one of the qualities that give Alienist its charm. That they still sound vital and wide-eyed doing it makes it a triumph.
Agent: Frank Kimenai
Label: Dais Records / Angry Love
Availability: Upon request