Screaming Headless Torsos

2005

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A decade! Fans of the mighty Screaming Headless Torsos had to wait ten years for the follow-up to the group's debut album -- with only a live CD to gnaw on meanwhile. Expectations were high, to say the least, and 2005 delivered the goods. It offers more of what made 1995 (aka the self-titled debut) so unique and yet sounds different, covering new grounds. The lineup remains basically the same (original drummer Jojo Mayer had bailed out and been replaced by Gene Lake before the group went on an extended hiatus), except on three songs where vocalist extraordinaire Dean Bowman steps down to lend some spotlight to Freedom Bremmer, who filled his shoes for a while during the interim. The album opens with "Mind Is a River," a wonderful high-octane, percussion-heavy song in the vein of "Smile in a Wave," perfect to prove that the band has still got it and put the listener in a comfort zone. "Woe to the Conquered" was already part of the band's live set back in 1996 but had not been committed to tape (it also appears on the live DVD, released almost simultaneously with 2005). It is one of the craziest things the Torsos have recorded, a mad song switching back-and-forth between speed-ska, soul a cappella singing and heavy metal. Speaking of crazy, introducing "Mr. Softee's Nightmare," a Frank Zappa-esque song featuring Bremmer convincing us in an exalted whining tone that "Mr. Softee is the Anti-Christ!" and going nuclear about people being "Dairy Queen zombified" over a metrically complex tune -- the bizarro version of 1995's "Kermes Macabre." The darker side of the first album is conspicuously absent from this one, replaced by more heavy stomping joie de vivre, killer soul-funk lines and restless grooves, not to forget two ballads highlighting Bowman's soulful voice and impressive range, "No Survivors" and "Smile at Me." "Faith in the Free" and "S.U.V. S.O.B." are two more standout tracks, the latter a rather lyrically simplistic charge against the behemoths of the road (although the line "'Oh, what a bummer I'm in my Hummer / I'm just so dumb and dumber" has a nice ring to it), but the song carries the message more than efficiently and nails it to the ground with a riff surprisingly reminiscent of Red-era King Crimson (believe it or not!). Fima Ephron's remix of "Faith in the Free" is little more than filler material for a slightly short album, but the hidden alternate version of "Smile in a Wave," included on the second pressing of the album, is an appreciated addition. This band has a unique sound from the start, combining soul, jazz, funk, metal and avant-garde leanings into one of the meanest groove recipes this side of James Brown's "Mother Popcorn." Now let's just hope this comeback will last, because America needs the Screaming Headless Torsos. Desperately.

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