KAKUTOPIA

Radioactive Sparrow – Wall To Wall Tits & Ass (School, Sex & Soap Trilogy Part Two) (1987)

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The initial intention was good: the title came from Heaving Stews as a tribute to Lenny Bruce (for whom he named a song on the album) – hence the spelling of ‘ass’ in the American vernacular. But Wall To Wall Tits & Ass reveals more gruesomely than elsewhere an interesting conflict that existed within the band around this time. 1987 was the year that Stews took it upon himself to make a concerted effort to gain John Peel’s attention and favour by sending him regular tapes. A deep-seated resistance to any kind of earnest promotion seems to have been instinctively prevalent in Radioactive Sparrow’s approach from the very start – as soon as Stews started sending tapes to Peel, Boyes and Bargefoot responded by corrupting as many songs as possible with unbroadcastable obscenities. Their obtusely truculent mischief reaches its apotheosis on this album, turning what might have been an incisively witty indictment of pop music’s pseudo-Victorian hypocrisies through an insightful homage to Lenny Bruce into a gratuitous display of sexist, puerile atrocity.

Which means for a lot of the time it is hard to laud some very inventive instant composition. …To which any hardcore adept of Kak’s counter-professionalist agenda would no doubt say, ‘thank fuck for that.’ All of which, basically, amounts to a disclaimer and warning: this album is willfully obscene in the most boisterously puerile way. In that respect, it is more than a little embarrassing for the band to be advertising it online, aged, as they are now, pushing fifty. But central to the very spirit of the project to make freely available the whole recorded legend of Radioactive Sparrow is a rigorous candour that seeks to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help me God (leaving out the ‘nothing but the…’ part because much of what Sparrow is about goes way beyond such meager categories as ‘true’).

The cover art, of course, takes it one step further – or at least sideways. It comes from Men Only, one of several Phil Raymond mags that used to dominate the top shelves of British newsagents. Brooce and Bill actually sourced it by flicking through porn mag pages in a shop and spotting this ardent splay of a pose in black and white, a supplementary insert to a piece of erotic prose (of the kind Alistair Campbell reputedly used to write), part of a pornographic tradition one imagines long gone in the post-internet age – those magazines must look really archaic now.

In terms of its place as part two of the School, Sex & Soap trilogy, Wall To Wall Tits & Ass was also partly conceived as a cathartic over-blow of the kind of carnal meditations that had been integral to Sparrow’s vocabulary since Festive Sex. Tracks like ‘The Wettest One Of Them All,’ ‘Boy-A-Gonna-Shagga,’ and ‘Big Bonse Jon’ intentionally push the envelope with Bargefoot and Boyes egging each other on, while Stews maintains a more pertinent, dry wit throughout songs like ‘Eating Habits II,’ ‘Lenny Bruce,’ and ‘Shag Happy’ (‘Life’s much simpler with a brain/Come on baby let’s live life in the fast lane’).

As part of the overall canon, the album is a worthy notch in the group’s development – even if much of it is hard to stomach. Some of the instant composition is their best yet; ‘Shag Happy’/’Shag Dancey’ are the same track, recorded before Stews arrived for the session, but left largely vocal-free so that he could overdub something later – the first time they ever brought the 4-track into play. Eventually, in order to distinguish the two versions still further, they sped up the tape for Stews’s version, and left the original backing track off for the first couple of minutes – which really pissed Stews off at the time, leaving as it did his vocal nakedly exposed; but in the end, as an album continuity, it’s a stroke of genius.

Tracklisting:

  1. Eating Habits II
  2. Shag Happy
  3. Lenny Bruce
  4. Boy Ya Gonna Shagga
  5. The Wettest One Of Them All
  6. Shag Dancey
  7. Southern Sprawl
  8. Mary Mary
  9. Big Bonse Jon

Personnel:
Heaving Stews
Brooce Boyes
Bill Bargefoot
plus Niklus, guitar on track 3

Recorded in the Hut, Ewenny, Wales, September 1987

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Written by Gustav Thomas

May 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm

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