‘Steak and Black Onions’ by Rapeman
From the album Two Nuns and a Pack Mule (1988)
It’s an inescapable fact that every album that you like was produced by either Rick Rubin, Timbaland or Steve Albini. It is the latter, who can list a résumé in the thousands of records with small highlights such as Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’, ‘Surfer Rosa’ by Pixies, ‘Pod’ by the Breeders, ‘Mclusky Do Dallas’, Jawbreaker’s ‘24 Hour Revenge Therapy’ and ‘Goat’ by The Jesus Lizard, who is the subject of this week’s Track of the Week. But why do many people who know Steve Albini’s name not know that he has been the frontman (guitar, vocals) for three exceptionally good bands? A perfectly valid answer to this question is ‘listen to the track above’. It is difficult, raking and abrasive, not to mention the fact that the artist is… yep… that’s not a typo, Rapeman, named after an obscure Japanese manga character.
Steve Albini has built a career around being fucking difficult, but fucking brilliant, and valuing the integrity and rights of artists over his own gain. His opinions on certain bands, the music industry (and again), dance music, and many more are legendary, eminently quotable and, mostly, right on the mark. Albini is famed for his analogue-only approach to recording at his Electrical Audio studios in Chicago (the studio has a digital room that Albini ‘doesn’t know how to use’) and he once wrote a letter to Nirvana, at the time one of the biggest bands in the world after the success of Nevermind, outlining his policy on recording.
‘Steak and Black Onions’, the first track on Rapeman’s only full-length, displays most, if not all, of the characteristics of Albini’s bands; abrasive, metallic guitars, pounding and relentless drums (human in Shellac and Rapeman; electronic in Big Black) and Albini’s confrontational lyrics; opening the song with ‘why don’t you snuff it then? You plant-eating pussy.’ The song lurches from one distorted passage to the next, like several thousand copies of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks.. being systematically fed through a circular saw, and ends as abruptly as it started after just over three minutes of midwestern anger and brilliance.
I sense that I’m going to get a bit of flak for featuring a band with the name Rapeman, however I will leave you with two quotes from Steve Albini regarding the issue –
You know, I can’t defend that choice [of the name]. The thought processes I went through at the time, I thought, were valid. At the time both Ray [Washam, drums] and I were the only people in the band. Both of us sort of caught onto the idea of the band and the band name, and that was all it took. So I still think that’s a valid process, and that’s the result we have to live with. I can’t defend that name, especially to someone who has a personal history that makes them particularly sensitive to it. But you know, I’m proud of the band, I’m proud of the music we made. I can’t defend the name, but I’m also not willing to apologize for it.
[N]o one except for a total dork is pro-rape.