Babes in Toyland – ‘Spanking Machine’: Round 34 – Rob’s choice

babes in toyland - spanking machineMany of my very favourite albums sounded , and still feel, like debuts, even if they weren’t. ‘Songs About Fucking’, ‘Goat’, ‘Feels’, ‘Clear Spot’, ‘White Light, White Heat’, ‘There Is No-one What Will Take Care Of You’, all arrived like breaches with the orthodoxy, simultaneously shocking, baffling, offensive and intriguing. It just so happened that their creators were a few records into their careers.

So, when Tom asked us to being a debut album, I immediately thought of first releases which had a similar transgressive impact rather than those which simply foreshadowed greatness to come. In truth I chose ‘Spanking Machine’ almost immediately, wavering a little in the run up, drawn by ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’ and ‘Exile in Guyville’.

But ‘Spanking Machine’ is a true debut. The first time I heard Babes in Toyland, via John Peel’s late night Radio One show, they sounded impossible, like nothing I’d ever imagined I’d hear. Traumatised and compelled in equal measures, I bought the album and it delivered a heavy payload. Today, having spent the intervening 23 years digging around mostly american alternative rock music, I still can’t piece together a credible explanation for where Babes in Toyland’s sound emerged from. Few if any of their predecessors had anything like their savage intensity, their black-hearted wit, their body-blow combination of neanderthal bluntness and explosive female emotion.

From the rollicking delta punk of ‘He’s My Thing’ and ‘Swamp Pussy’ to the teetering scream therapy of ‘Vomit Heart’ and ‘Fork Down Throat’, the record veers from clattering mosh starters to lurching musical breakdowns. It’s one of the most honest records I’ve ever heard. So many artists write and record with some thought, big or small, for whether people might listen and what they might think. ‘Spanking Machine’ is pure self expression from three women who came together with no idea of the unholy, primal racket they were about to make.

The result has integrity, rage, blood and body fluids. It has Lori Barbero learning to play the drums by beating the living shit out of them, Michelle Leon hitting her bass like a field gun and Kat Bjelland simultaneously shredding a guitar and her vocal chords, screaming like a grown woman channeling Regan MacNeil. Most of all, it carries a dangerous rock and roll charge which remains volatile and incendiary even to this day.

Footnote: If you happen to find yourself blogging about Babes In Toyland’s debut album, make sure you include the name of the band in your Google Image search if you value your sexual innocence and your browser cache.

Nick listened: It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast between Tom’s choice, which we played directly before Babes In Toyland, and Rob’s; from minimal, shy, winsome electronic boys to snarling, growling, thrillingly luddite girls. I was aware of the name Babes In Toyland but not really of their sound or ethos, beyond them being a rock band. Spanking Machine isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally listen to for pleasure, being at the brutalist end of the rock spectrum, but as a one-off DRC choice it was a great choice, particularly compared to what came beforehand. Not sure quite what Rob means about records that sound like debuts but aren’t though…

Rob attempted to clarify: I guess that was a vaguely made point even by my standards. I meant to say that a good proportion of my very favourite records and artists sounded shockingly new the first time I heard them, even if the records themselves weren’t debuts. They were debut musical experiences for me. So when Tom set the theme, I began looking for debut albums which also carried the full shock of the new, hence ‘Spanking Machine’, rather than those which might be lesser known works of artists who went on to create canonical works, say ‘Bleach’ or ‘From Her To Eternity’.

Tom Listened: Despite not knowing the debut album of one of his favourite recording artists (you will have to go and confess to high priest of American Indie-Folk…Cardinal William of Oldham), I agree with pretty much all else Rob says in his write up for Spanking Machine (he’s better when not dealing in facts, you see). I also agree with Nick.

Spanking Machine has been gathering dust in my collection for the last twenty years or so and it was thrilling to hear the first two thirds of the album again. I was surprised at the variety of sounds on offer both within and between songs and realised that there is much more (well, alright…more) subtlety to the Babes debut than I assumed. However by the half hour mark I was beginning to feel exhausted – aurally pummeled – and the last few songs passed by in a blur of vague recognition and a remembrance that Spanking Machine was one of those records that I often used the vinyl equivalent of the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. One side was usually enough; thrilling, visceral and brutal.  Both, for me, in one sitting and it bordered on masochism!

Rob recanted once more: Oh for goodness sakes. This point about debut albums clearly got so munged up in my pointless tiny head that I conflated my list of debuts and not debuts. If you lot hadn’t made such a big deal I could have just removed the whole stupid paragraph.

Graham listened: The remaining debuts I looked at for this round just didn’t inspire me to pitch up with anything this round. If I had chosen anything and had to follow this, well, game over. Never heard it, so hung on by fingernails all the way through. Possibly the artistic/aural equivalent of flower pressing with a brick, awesome.

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