Even before my first spin of Fed to Your Head had ended, I sensed that the album would inspire strongly contradictory feelings, and a brief prowl across the Internet confirmed my suspicions. An online reviewer at ink19.com likened Scorched Earth to "a third-rate Lenny Kravitz" and concluded with comments that are eloquent in their simplicity: "This CD is terribly embarrassing for both listener and band. Avoid it like the plague, brother." But a scribe writing at www.riff-fanzine.com, a Spanish-language site, could hardly have disagreed more strongly -- and his words, as translated (oddly) by the Google search engine, practically vibrated with a sense of discovery. "Aleluya!" he exulted. "An English band of hard rock!"
Although listeners may ultimately side with one of these opinions over the other, both are suspect -- because neither writer seemed to realize that Scorched Earth isn't a real combo, but a larky side project perpetrated by Nick Saloman, the man behind the veteran British act known as the Bevis Frond. And while it's impossible to tell if such knowledge would have altered their disparate listening experiences, there's no denying that the disc is the most accurate satire of vintage psychedelia since the members of XTC went on a long, strange trip as the Dukes of Stratosphear -- so precise, in fact, that most people haven't gotten the joke.
You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to find evidence of gamesmanship here. The CD's jacket identifies the core Earth dwellers as Jay "The Prophet" Pharaoh Curd, Chuck "The Horse" Kowalski and Randy "The Snake" Kyser, with a special guest appearance by Bob "Devilfinger" Kramer II. On top of that, the hilariously overwritten liner notes ("Like a phoenix, your brain rises from the ashes, the drums pound and drive the music forward like a charging bull on amphetamines") are credited to "Gentian Honeydew Peace Raven III, Guru, Seer & owner of Holy Mountain Recordings." But the most persuasive clues are the songs themselves. "Woman Gone Bad" rides in on a monster guitar figure straight out of the Leslie West School of Riffology and vocals that are just this side of hysterical: "Woman -- ha! -- I gotta get inside yer mind!" The blues-rock madness of "Killing Time" is equally overamped, and "Long Black Gown" goes from gentle finger-picking to uncontrolled frenzy over the course of more than fourteen nutty minutes.
That's not to suggest, however, that Scorched Earth is a subtler Spinal Tap. Saloman genuinely loves this music, and his joy is contagious. Furthermore, the ecstatic soloing that marks tracks such as "The Girl From Shady Grove" isn't far removed from the playing on Triptych, an entertainingly heady 1988 Bevis Frond epic recently reissued by Rubric. Although Triptych standouts such as "Into the Cryptic Mist," "Phil Exorcises the Daemons" and "Corinthian" may be comparatively artsy ventures into psychedelic territory, "Nowhere Fast," "Tangerine Infringement Beak" and the bonus track appropriately dubbed "You're Trying to Get Me High Again" are every bit as dedicated to having fun and going too far as anything on Fed to Your Head.
In other words, Saloman is no third-rate Lenny Kravitz. But thank goodness he fronts an English band of hard rock!
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