The Scientists had the sad fate of being more easily understood after the fact than when they were a functioning group -- the band's murky but vivid melange of garage rock, proto-punk, blues, and the sounds of a foggy netherworld that existed only in Kim Salmon's mind left more folks puzzled than excited during their 1979 to 1987 life span. More than two decades later, it's easy to hear how strongly the Scientists shaped the future of post-punk, grunge, punk blues, and even goth (if only in their willingness to embrace the bass-heavy darkness), but outside their native Australia, the band's recorded legacy has never been served especially well, especially in the United States, where for years Sub Pop's Absolute Scientists collection was the only example of the group's work one could readily find. Swampland: Birth of the Scientists is a compilation that gathers material from the Scientists' crucial 1982 to 1984 period along with eight rare and unreleased live performances. In the truest sense, Birth of the Scientists doesn't live up to its own billing; it ignores the early singles released by the embryonic version of the band (such as the killer "Frantic Romantic") and the group's first album (featuring James Baker, who would later help form the Hoodoo Gurus) in favor of picking up the story with the release of the "This Is My Happy Hour" b/w "Swampland" single in 1982, which is where the band's signature sound really gelled for the first time. But if this disc is a bit faulty as history, it's superb as an introduction to the Scientists' first moments of true greatness; while it isn't hard at all to hear what a lot of other bands took from this music (Mudhoney being one of the only ones to try and return the favor), there's a dark, grimy splendor in what the Scientists wrought that's still seriously compelling. The live tracks that close out this disc are a bit dodgy from a technical standpoint -- they were taken from old cassettes and often sound like it -- but they confirm that this band could generate the same powerful sound and atmosphere on-stage. There's a crying need for a comprehensive multi-disc anthology of the Scientists and their many incarnations, but Swampland: Birth of the Scientists at least does right by their 1982-1984 rise to glory, and hopefully this will be the first in a series of compilations documenting their evolution through the '80s.
Swampland: Birth of the Scientists Review
by Mark Deming