Public Castration is a Good Thing
Gentle melodies, intricate three and four part harmonies, delicate bass and guitar lines intricately interwoven to create a dazzling tapestry of beauty. You will find none of this on the CD Public Castration is a Good Idea, a live recording from the Swan's early days. The music is raw, primal and harsh, grinding slowly away, desperately trudging from the first "note" to get to the finish line, holding it's disemboweled entrails in it's hands. The melodies are non-existent or buried so deep beneath the death-like drone that uncovering them would require the skill of an undertaker and the psyche of madman. The percussion is as if empty steel garbage cans were being beaten with heavy chains in a dripping alley at the witching hour. Guitars? Yes, but these too sound as if they were plugged in, the distortion put past ten, past eleven, maybe to thirteen, and then thrown to the floor, later to be struck at random by bricks, bones, and empty syringes. The lyrics are obsessive, demented nightmares that teeter on the brink of madness, making the visions of Clive Barker seem as though they were the innocent fairy tales of a child. Thematically, the Swans prefer the joys of sex, death during sex, greed, greed accompanied by death, and death. The "twisted genius" behind this rot, Michael Gira, as always shouts and "sings" above this churning miasma like the Frankenstein's monster being bludgeoned to death, his hoarse voice barely discernable in the din.
In a nutshell, I hate the music of the Swans and grow to hate it more with each listen... and yet like that carton of milk so far gone you know it will make your eyes water, there is something about the music that draws you back. "It can't be as horrible as I remember," you think. But it is. And I think the Swans like it this way.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, September 1999.