How does he do it? I mean, really? Throughout his lengthy career, JG Thirlwell's Foetus and related projects have managed to pack more ideas into a single side of an EP than most bands manage in, well, ever. He's been pretty consistent about it, too, and after 30 years, most artists are winding down on all fronts. Thirlwell, on the other hand, is even more prolific than ever, with no abatement of quality.
Recent releases have progressively moved away from the brute force of 'Gash' - an apocalyptic collision of big band brass and pulverising industrial guitar mayhem - toward a more orchestral, sweeping drama. Of course, these latter elements have long been present in Foetus' output, as some of the tracks on 'Nail' and the 'Null' and 'Void' EPs evidence, as well as Thirlwell's manifold side projects, in particular as Steroid Maximus and Manorexia.
To summarise the diversity and depth of any Foetus album in a review, written on the back of a handful of plays is an impossible task, and this is no more true than of 'Hide,' which is truly breathtaking in its scope. There's a melancholic, almost dejected feel to much of 'Hide,' but it's by no means a downbeat or depressing album. Instead, the mood is brooding and contemplative, reflective. Thirlwell is not only self-proclaimed 'master of disaster' but also a magnificently intuitive composer. 'Hide' isn't merely an assembly of tracks, but a work that has been conceived as a whole, and carries the listener through a vast array of different emotional states.
'Cosmetics' provides a truly grand opening, an operatic musical in one act. Understated it isn't. Immensely layered and far beyond the realms of your average so-called 'industrial' or any other 'genre' album it is. And then some. There's an almost Beatles-like melody on the melancholic 'Paper Slippers,' and Thirlwell's only just beginning to demonstrate his immense versatility and capacity for remarkable and varied composition.
So, after the bitter dejection and rage - not to mention high drama - of 'Stood Up,' the moody, gentle cleansing of 'Here Comes the Rain,' the slow, sparse and moving 'Oilfields' and the subdued, subtle ambience of 'Concrete,' 'The Ballad of Sisyphus T. Jones' positively explodes in a rush of galloping drums like a cavalcade of horses, with a flurry of flamenco guitars, castanets and brass, countered by a string section that builds a magnificent tension. Despite being completely unlike the rest of the album, or any other Foetus track I can think of, it sounds quintessentially and archetypal Foetus. Again, it's all testament to Thirlwell's uniqueness and astounding flare.
He holds it back until the penultimate track, but on the eight and a half minute heavyweight behemoth 'You're Trying to Break Me', Thirlwell brings the noise, blasts of brass battling with bruising percussion and swampy synthesised guitar sounds, the anguished vocals snarling low in the mix delivering lines like 'don't let your mouth write checks that your liver can't cash' and 'I know what side my bed is buttered on'. Equal parts bile-filled and revelling in wordplay, it's vintage Foetus.
Closer 'O Putrid Sun' reveals a new side of Foetus. I'd hesitate to describe it as poppy, but the synths are out and there are majestic pop elements present, albeit filtered through a twisted Foetal filter. It's thirty years more evolved than the early quirky electro-pop of those first Foetus single releases, such as 'What Is the Bane of Your Life?' and it's pure quality.
'Hide' unquestionably marks yet another fantastic addition to the already astounding Foetus catalogue, and is one of those albums that demands repeat listening, and lots of it.
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