Zip Code Revue

An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctors Away

Abundance - Amarillo 1994
Rating = 8

The Zip Code Rapists were an early-90's joke-noise yelly San Francisco duo featuring John Singer on guitar and Gregg Turkington (of Breakfast Without Meat fame) on yelling. They released a few singles and one album before coming up with a hilarious concept that would have been even funnier had anybody noticed. Unfortunately nobody did and the resulting albums languished in a warehouse for decades. But I'm here now, so let me tell you the concept.

The concept was that the duo would fake a dramatic, backbiting break-up. Gregg Turkington began the ruse by issuing a purposely depressing, lackluster album (Back To Basics-"Live") by his new band The Three Doctors, comprised of himself, Trey Spruance (Mr. Bungle), Brandan Kearney (Caroliner) and Margaret Murray (?). The inside liner notes were the real prize in this package -- transcripts of two recent interviews (conducted separately) in which (a) Turkington declares that Singer just wants to wallow in the past while he wants to move forward and make exciting revolutionary new music, and (b) Singer struggles to understand why his old friend would go after him with lawyers and repeatedly attack him in the media. The full humor of this gag only hits home when you put the record on the turntable and learn that Gregg's idea of 'musical progression' involves a bunch of shitty, amateurish cover tunes.

The next (and final) part of the concept is what you are now holding in your hand - John Singer's response to the breakup. Just as Gregg was clearly desperate to connect his new band to the 'successful' Zip Code Rapists ("The Three Doctors" was in fact the name of the Zip Code Rapists' sole LP and most popular song), John not only retains the "Zip Code R" part of the band name (ensuring that his CD would directly follow "Zip Code Rapists" on record store shelves) but purposely underlines "Z," "C" and "R" on the album cover and, silliest of all, renames himself "Therapist John" (get it? "The Rapist John"?). But the jokes only start there!

On first listen, Abundance sounds like a calm, warm country/western album full of acoustic strumming, lovely pedal steel guitar and musical/vocal accompaniment by a group of SF's finest underground musicians (Thinking Fellers Union Local 282's Mark Davies, U.S. Saucer's David Tholfsen, Counting Crows' Charlie Gillingham, American Music Club's Bruce Kaphan, others). But upon closer inspection, it appears to be much more than that; although Turkington claims he doesn't know what their intentions were and I've never spoken to John Singer in my life, I'll be hogtied if this isn't a concept album about the Zip Code Rapists' breakup. Not only the cover artwork (a photo of a little girl trying to console a crying baby), but almost every song - even the cover material - can be interpreted as John crying out, "Why did you leave me, Gregg? Why are you being so mean?" Enjoyed in this context (right or wrong), the album is not only well-written and beautifully performed, but uproarilarious to boot!

Good old boots. They try to do their job, keeping feet warm for you and me. This is just an aside though.

Okay, first of all there's the matter that 3 of the 10 tracks are covers of (or sequels to) old Zip Code Rapists songs. Played more professionally, yes -- "Wired"'s crazy electronic drumbreak is actually played by a live drummer now! -- but clearly an exercise in nostalgia nonetheless. And couldn't "Che"'s final lament "The revolution takes place outside without us" be seen as a sorrowful observation from one musical revolutionary to his former partner? Sure it could. Fuck off if you don't think it could.

Next are the originals - two observations of the breakup from the outsider's point of view, and two from the heart of John himself. As even normal people would agree, Mark Davies' "Doctors Are Spreading Disease" is obviously about Turkington's new band, with uproarious lyrics like "His prescription is making you hurt" and "Doctors are spreading disease/How much blood can you squeeze/from the heart of this talented man?" HAAAAAAAAAA! Rolfsen's "Begging Song" continues in a similar vein: "5, 10, 15, 30, 50 months ago/There were no Doctors... Now there are Three Doctors and a helper of soul." And John's melancholy "If You Had My Eyes" and "Let's Go Fast" will tug your heartstrings right out as he weeps "It's better to be blind than witness all the times/you have lied and cheated in my face" and "He says... He tells me... 'Let go, fast.'" This is Conceptland Galore! And the music's good too! (if you like sweet low-key country music with lovely pedal steel hooks and such)

And the non-ZCR covers they chose to wrestle! Kitty Wells' "Making Believe" and Russ Saul's "Leaving Has Hurt"!? Tearsadders with lyrics like "Making believe that you still love me/Instead of leaving me alone and so blue" and "Look what your leaving's done to me"!? Color me laughing hard while weeping inside with joy and sadness of funniness!

So that leaves "Tea In Djibouti," a Butthole Surfers-style guitar-noise/manipulated-phone-voice collage that John recorded at home by himself. I don't quite see how this fits into the overall concept, so maybe it doesn't. It's also the only completely worthless track on the CD.

So that's two sad acoustic ballads with accordion, two bouncy C/W waltzes, two avant-noise-rock instrumentals, one sweet country-rocker, one angry hard rocker, one pedal steel-drenched woman-sung C/W ballad, and one uptempo C/W hoedown. 8 of the 10 tracks are a million times more professional and musical than anything the Zip Code Rapists ever did, but if you're the anti-C/W, you might be better off sticking with Jubbs McKiggliary.

(Shit! Now I have to form a band called Jubbs McKiggliary and write, record and release an album before this review hits the Internet tonight.)

(Does anyone have Mike Patton's phone number?)

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