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Eyewitness Record Reviews by Steve Albini

from Forced Exposure #17, 1991:

Record reviewers have been at an enormous disadvantage since the advent of the multi-track recording in the late 1950s. No longer can any assumptions be made about the conditions under which a record was recorded. I am now able to write the first truly informed series of record reviews since the dawn of that accursed technology. I can comment on records I saw being made. When I am hired to record a band, I make it plain to my clients that I do not wish to be associated with their charming little records. I will do a good job for them, but that does not include shouldering any responsibility for their lousy tastes and mistakes.

When I was employed as a photo retoucher, I was often involved in the alteration of reality for the noble purpose of increasing cigarette sales. Not once did I expect or desire to see “produced by Steve Albini” on a Marlboro ad, simply because it was this, and not some poor other sap, who toned down the excessive lipgloss on Darryl’s pout or removed the unfortunate sarcoma from his forehead. I apply the same logic to my current occupation. Often these clients disregard my wishes and publicize the fact that I worked on their records. Oh, man. Today, they get their just desserts. I will make little comment about the actual music on any of these records (figuring everybody has formed an opinion already or couldn’t care less), and will say nothing except “Bless you” about those who have respected my anonymity.

A word about my fees: I charge whatever the hell I feel like at the moment, based on the client’s ability to pay, how nice the band members are, the size and directly-proportional gullibility of the record label, and whether or not they got the rock. For example, Slint or Mudhead I would lend money to. The Didjits or Fugazi I would do for free. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet and Jesus Lizard would pay beans. Most everybody else pays $150 — $450 a day, except that anybody on a major label gets fucked whole-dong outright, figuring that they’re never going to get paid anyway, unless it’s somebody like Ministry or Depeche Mode or Guns ‘n Roses or Bullet La Volta who suck so wildly that I wouldn’t endure them for a fortune.

The straight skinny from an eyewitness:

The Pixies “Surfer Rosa” LP: A patchwork pinch loaf from a band who a their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock. Their willingness to be “guided” by their manager, their record company and their producers is unparalleled. Never have I seen four cows more anxious to be led around by their nose rings.

Except that I got to rewrite their songs with a razorblade, thought the drums sounded nice, and managed to get Nate the Impaler on the LP as a cameo, I remember nothing about this album, although I thought it was pretty good at the time. During the recording, a sibling of the sexual partner of a Pixie was lounging around making little fuck me noises, so I took her home and got stiffed. Had to retreat to Byron’s “den of satisfaction” and run a batch off by hand. I seem to remember that their Filipino guitar player was pro-Marcos, but I could be wrong. The album took about a week maybe two all tolled. Fee: $1,500.

I later recorded a single track with them for a label-stroke compilation album. The band had been getting the Big High Building “pampered performer” treatment for a couple of years by then and were consequently bored and dour. It took a couple of hours after dinner one night. Fee: $4,000. About a year later, Bob Krasnow, the geeb at Elektra’s Big High Building who fathered this dumb idea sent me a truly revolting nickel-and-gold Omega wristwatch (the kind Record Producers wear), with tacky Biz inscription and tacky presentation case. As soon as somebody at the pool room offers me what it’s worth, I’m gonna have a hell of a nice dinner.

The Wedding Present “Brassneck” single: I was told they wanted to record three songs, we ended up recording six, the most embarrassing of which is an as-yet-unreleased adenoidal rendition of Penetration’s “Don’t Dictate.” I should say right out that the band are truly swell guys. Nice enough to go our with your sister and everything, but Jesus, are they vulnerable.

They started out like any independent band, and now are in the unenviable position of trying to operate like one while unquestionably in the jaws of a Big High Building-type record company. These poor guys are under the delusion that the staff of RCA actually gives a shit about whether they draw breath or not. They sweat their tours out in a tiny rented van, pinching every penny, lost in the assumption that the label dorks back in the Big High Building ”feel” for them in some way.

Meanwhile, I’m chatski on the cellular phone in the limo, keeping my appointment with the club car of a Britrail, where I’ll be treated to a fucking filet on my way to my private room in the four star Hotel Picadilly in Manchester (where the three telephones and electric towel warmer are an ergonomic distance away from the toilet, but the closed-circuit porn movies have the penetrations and cum shots excised.) “Not to worry,” the grand dork says, snapping the Amex down on whatever Formica is handy, “it’s recoupable.” It took about four days. Fee: $9,500 plus “niceties.”

The band recorded three songs in Chicago during a break in their US tour, and while the music was otherwise a big improvement over the songs recorded for “Brassneck,” I have to report that they also did a version of a Steve Harley song called “Make Me Smile.” Supposedly this was a smash hit in the Bad Music Era across the pond, but back in Montana I only knew one guy who ever listened to Steve Harley. He was a Sparks fan and he later died of a brain tumor. I’m not going to risk it myself. Fee: $4,260.

The Breeders “Pod” LP: For reasons too subtle to describe accurately [boing! — Hat Ed.], I really enjoyed going to Scotland and working on this. The actual record is nothing special, of course, but I have a much deeper understanding of the twin phenomena of synchronous menses and breast swelling than I previously would have dreamed.

The only chafingly unpleasant thing about the experience was an unbearable shithead gopher who loitered around the studio during those hours when he wasn’t actually engaged in plugging the guitar player (the only function he truly served). Josephine, the bass player, looks quite a bit like an emu, except that her hair is thinner. The studio owner had a pathological fear of raw eggs, and entertained us with stories about the ex-Bay City Roller he buys beef from. His wife, a voluptuous, once-attractive singer, would occasionally strip down to her frillies at the bountiful dinner table.

I pounded everybody through the album in about a week, but the label insisted that we stay at the studio and dream up another three weeks of work for me to do. The drummer accepted any excuse to go across the road to the pub and get stupid drunk, and finished one evening dancing in the arms of a Freemason transvestite named “Dora” (John). On the last night in Scotland, the drummer went to a meeting of The Angler’s Club, and didn’t return until well after closing time. Presented to the front door by two Anglers, each holding an elbow (the little drummer’s legs had failed hours earlier), Shannon was completely blackened with soot from the fire, except for bright blue rings drawn with pool table chalk around nose and chin. Anglers, I swear!

The well-plugged guitar player (noted above) tipped me to a bit of Boston gossip. It seems that Suzy Rust has been getting some social mileage out of a rumor that she and I are well-acquainted with the contours of each other’s nakedness, and once traded orgasms in the growler at Chet’s. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I have never been in the toilet at Chet’s. Fee: $4,000.

Tad “Salt Lick” EP: There has been debate in some quarters about the validity of the whole Tad thing. Such talk comes from mouths unassociated with either ears or brains. That Tad now introduces himself as “Tiny” whenever he gets a chance is only further evidence of apparent genius. His first words after stepping off the plane and enveloping my forequarter with a handshake however, were, “Say, do you know where we can get any pot?” Fortunately, a terrible band of my acquaintance was recording in the studio upstairs from us, with a singer known to travel with commercial quantities. “I’m not carrying that much pot nowadays,” said the singer, his expression inverting. “I’m tired of getting arrested all the time.” Tad was not a happy Tad that weekend.Fee: $600.

Poster Children “Flower Power” LP: They had a really fruity drummer for a while, but I think he died of the syph. This one took two days. Fee: $300.

Daisy Chain Reaction LP: Their current drummer, Crazy Bob, does occasionally scream “Hey, fuck me in the ass Steve, right here, right now!” from across a crowded room at me, but somehow that isn’t as irritating as wearing a beret and scarf simultaneously. While recording their second record, Crazy Bob got to meet Aerosmith, whose drummer shared this joke with him: How do you get a nun pregnant? — Fuck her. I laughed. Fee: $2,400.

Bitch Magnet “Star Booty” EP: Listen, all I did was help three college bozos remix some sorry class-project recordings, and all of a sudden, Ding! I’m their “producer.” Listening to this poor wittle wecord is about the dumbest thing you can do with it, especially if you’re short on dinnerware. I did work on an actual record of theirs later, and it wasn’t unpleasant, but Orestes “Toast” Delatorre, their drummer and interesting member, has left the band to pursue dog grooming in Alaska or someplace, so who really cares. That B’gnet routinely fires Jon Fine (token hebe) immediately after each recording session is testament to his personality. Fee: $100, I think.

Jesus Lizard “Pure” EP: Recorded before the band existed, and therefore neither representative nor any good. They recorded with a drum machine, against all advice, instead of waiting for their excellent actual drummer (a sort of tragic genius) to materialize. A shame, considering how tremendous a band they’ve become. This record is a blight on a soon-to-be-enormously-significant career. Bands have overcome more shabby beginnings, but not many. The only one of their three records that is not absolutely stellar, but boy is it lunar. Fee: about a buck, I think.

Bastro “Rode Hard And Put Up Wet” LP: See previous review. In my opinion, a Zoviet France tattoo is stupid even when compared to genital piercing.

Whitehouse “Thank Your Lucky Stars” 45 and LP: William Bennett can effortlessly play almost any Yes song you could be pained to mention on Spanish guitar. I shit you not. Each of the songs Whitehouse recorded was structurally mapped by a famous heavy metal song. So much so, in fact, that all Bennett used as a headphone cue was a cassette recording of whichever Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden or Deep Purple song the track was based on. Tidbit — three guesses which later-famous synthesizer guy that is on the back of that Prag Vec record you haven’t listened to since 1980. Ding! Give that man a banana. Fee: $600.

Membranes “Kiss Ass Godhead” LP: I did not produce this record, despite what it says on the jacket. I worked on a couple of songs in Chicago, and helped them mix a few more songs in Leeds, but I no more “produced” it than did I reach into my butt crack and discover it. (Speaking of which, I have a good friend and billiard associate named Jon Spiegel whose magic act involves the disappearance of a volunteer’s hankie and the subsequent appearance from between his own magnificent butt cheeks. It’s a real PTA pleaser.) Neither Homestead nor Glass, the Membranes’ two labels, ever paid me. John Robb is a stand up fellow, but he has lousy business associates, and talks like a Ferriner. Fee: Still nothing in the mailbox, Seymour — you lying fuck.

Gore “Wrede” LP: The title is a Dutch pun combining the words “cruelty” and ”peace.” Oh you guys, you crack me up. This is a double album, made up of four monolithic instrumentals, the longest of which clocks in at nearly half an hour. I arrived after the band had spent three weeks recording, so there was basically nothing for me to do except oversee overdubs and mix one song. And take sauna baths. And eat like a pig. My favorite victual in Dykenland is a peppered raw beef called “filet American.” Must be another Dutch pun. I also learned to love Vlokken, a chocolate shred that is eaten on toast.

I met a writer for the Dutch music magazine Oor (Ear), who always wore a glove on his right hand, which was always balled-up in a fist. I found out why when the conversation turned to fireworks, and he demonstrated (by sticking a thumbtack in it) that his hand was wooden. He had blown it off with fireworks as a boy. He asked me why Americans have such a low opinion of the Dutch. I told him that Americans seldom even thought of the Dutch, except for their elm disease, which we thought highly of. He gave as evidence the expressions “being in Dutch,” “Dutch courage,” and worst of all, “Dutch treat— why that’s no treat of all!” I told him that they were all puns.

The other engineer on the record was Theo Van Eenbergen, a swell guy who now handles live sound for Henry Rollins, a fate I wouldn’t wish on a dog I didn’t like. Theo told me about the pot farm he used to live on. Sometimes he and his friends would run naked through the plants and collect the resins from their skin to smoke like hashish. Neat.

Things I now know how to say in Dutch: “Zet je koptelefoon op, mietje, voor ik je tegens jehersens knal.” (“Put your headphones on, you little faggot, or I’ll come out and crush your brains.”) “Vall kapot! Late we eten.” (“Fuck it, this is a disaster! Let’s eat.”) I also learned why you should never ask a Dutch guitar player to hand you his “pick.” Fee: $1,200.

Head Of David “Dustbowl” LP: The original artwork for this album said ”Dustbowel,” which I quite liked, even when I found out it was a mistake. My involvement here was limited to remixing a record that was fine before I touched it and got no better for the effort. I also had to endure the presence of Justin Pile, HOD’s measly drummer, who spent long hours bemoaning the state of his hemorrhoids, playing with his dreadlocks and eating greasy vegetarian food (the better to fart you with, grandma) — the turd.Fee: about $500, I think