A lot can happen in twenty-three minutes. It certainly does in the new album by The Leg, mercurial junkyard auteur Dan Mutch's manic spleen-venting song-writing vehicle over four albums and the best part of a decade. With cellist Pete Harvey and drummer Alun Thomas completing The Leg's (un)holy trinity, The Leg formed out of the ashes of the trio's previous band, Desc. Harvey was there too in Mutch's first band, Khaya, who were way too out of step with the second half of the 1990s they existed through, despite the acclaim, the John Peel sessions and the wilful self-destruction.
Khaya's three albums, Desc's sole full-length effort plus assorted singles and EPs are available somewhere or other, and should be sought out post-haste. As should too The Leg's two collaborations and another one on the way with kindred spirit, fellow traveller and former Dawn of the Replicants vocalist turned absurdist story-teller, Paul Vickers. Oh, and The Leg's own '8 Songs by The Leg,' and 'What Happened to the Shrunken Tina Tina Turner,' are pretty awesome too.
These years saw live shows saw The Leg seemingly raid the dressing-up box kept hidden in the paranoid wing of the local infirmary for live shows that saw them grotesque themselves up in assorted panda outfits and wrestling masks. Some might call it Verfremdungseffekt. Especially when they took the choir-girl chirrup of Mike Oldfield's 1983 hit sung by Maggie O'Reilly, Moonlight Shadow, and pretty much assaulted and battered it into submission.
Here and now, however, while the songs remain similarly strange, both masks and gloves are off, as Mutch, Harvey and Thomas follow up 2012's 'An Eagle To Saturn' with a whip-cracking gallop through eight numbers that sound oddly melodious, even as they appear to have come crashing down the stairs in a Samuel Beckett vaudeville routine pumped up with stumblebum adrenalin.
The opening strung-out slide guitar of 'Dam Uncle Hit' sounds innocuous enough as it moves into a rockabilly canter, but that's before Mutch starts declaiming with demonic delight something which may or may not be about tormenting an elderly relative with laughing gas. 'Lionlicker' is an equally off-kilter romp that sounds like an infant's trip to the local safari park gone wrong. Led by some jaunty hand-claps, it is also the first song on the album to mix up Mutch's acoustic thrum and Thomas' restlessly nuanced percussion with Harvey's newly developed piano skills.
These flit between silent movie chase scenes and, on the music hall clatter of 'Chicken Slippers,.' Les Dawson after a few sherbets. 'Lionlicker' is nevertheless fused with an apposite sense of child-like wonder at something which has shuffled unwillingly off this mortal coil. Possibly helped along with a mallet.
'Don't Bite A Dog' is a forebodly urgent whirlwind that seems to involve Batman, gangsters and other unsavoury types. The album's title track is a brief impressionistic piano and percussion based instrumental sketch that squints into the middle-distance in search of Zen-like satori while someone next to them has a panic attack. '25 Hats' sounds like someone left all the machinery on at the slaughterhouse, where the owner has been bound, gagged and hung upside-down by a bunch of Buckfasted-up psychopaths who think water-boarding should be an Olympic sport.
After this, 'Chicken Slippers' is a piece of light relief with its Keystone Cops style musical prat-falls and magnificently ridiculous observations of absurdist minutiae. 'Quantum Suicide' goes country style with a nervily relentless but not unpleasant plinky-plonkified litany before the album's finale, 'Celebrating Love,' promises happy endings and redemption. By the time its frenzied Cossack burl around the dinner table gives way to a tender meditation on jelly babies and absent friends, the raging calm its reaches might just be an exhausted up-all-night collapse into drunk-sleep.
Here then, is a feral and dysfunctional thrash-folk jug-band that occupies an Edward Gorey-like den of iniquity and sounds like an alternative soundtrack to South Park and twice as nasty, but which retains a cracked, fragile vulnerability that needs to get all this stuff out lest sectioning be deemed necessary. And if it was stretched out any longer than its blisteringly raucous twenty-three minutes like this, give or take an extra fifteen-seconds pause for breath, perhaps we'd all end up in the same boat, unable to cope with the album's variety mad-house racket.
The number twenty-three, of course, is blessed with a myriad of cosmic inter-connections, as embraced by assorted mavericks, conspiracy theorists and pranksters, from William S Burroughs to Ken Campbell, who directed a twelve-hour stage version of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's sprawling science-fiction epic, The Illuminatus Trilogy!, to KLF founder and avant-provocateur Bill Drummond, who designed the sets for the production, which opened in a Liverpool warehouse turned cafe theatre on November 23rd (natch) 1976.
If there are any conspiracies, coincidences and evidence of synchronicity here, it comes via the psychic legacy of The Leg's capital city forbears. The last time an album of such brevity sounded so urgent, so hungry and so not giving a flying one, after all, was when that other seminal Edinburgh band, Fire Engines, released Lubricate Your Living Room back in 1980. Fire Engines played fifteen minute sets, packing more life-dependent adrenalin-rush into that quarter of an hour that most acts do in an hour. Paul Morley famously asked head Grateful Dead-head Jerry Garcia if he'd heard of Fire Engines, pointing out that where they did fifteen-minute sets, Garcia played fifteen-minute guitar solos. 'Fire Engines or Boredom' went early communiques. 'You Can't Have Both.'
While the same spirit abounds here, The Leg don't actually sound anything like Fire Engines, but are more akin to an even messier Edinburgh-sired combo in the low-slung depravities of Country Teasers. Where Ben Wallers' bile-driven band walked forever on the black side, there's something more surreal and cartoonish about The Leg, even as neuroses simmer inwardly. In this way The Leg are like Wile E Coyote, Chuck Jones' animated Sisyphean figure chasing the forever out-of-reach Roadrunner across assorted Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. As with Wile E Coyote, though, when 'Oozing A Crepuscular Light' goes off in your face, you know The Leg will live to fight another day.
The List, November 2013