Unique Yet Accessible
Genesis P-Orridge has never been one to conform to social norms. H/er various artistic endeavors have always pushed boundaries. This is perhaps best evinced by h/er involvement in COUM Transmissions: a transgressive performance collective that challenged conventional ideas of sexuality and gender whilst engaging in outlandish theatrics, such as requiring their audience to crawl through polyethylene tunnels to reach the venue. P-Orridge continued to shock fans when s/he and h/er late wife, Jacqueline Mary Breyer, began pursuing their Pandrogeny Project, which strove to unite them as a single entity through surgical processes.
Yet while P-Orridge’s legacy is perhaps best tied to these cultural subversions, s/he is also known for her prolific musical work with Psychic TV. Since the group’s formation in the early ‘80s, they have produced a whopping thirty-six studio albums, running the gamut of sounds and styles – from infectiously upbeat rock tunes, such as their hit-single “Godstar,” to more eccentric noise art (e.g. “Je T’aime” and “Skreemer”). Although P-Orridge did announce h/er retirement from music nearly ten years ago, it seems as though Psychic TV are in the midst of a resurgence of sorts. In this year alone, the band has re-issued their 1982 debut album, Force the Hand of Chance, announced a slew of tour dates, and produced material to be featured on a new album: Alienist.
Alienist follows more in the vein of the band’s more accessible offerings – which may, of course, be partially due to the fact that half of its tracks are covers. Regardless, Psychic TV’s newest album features some infectiously upbeat acid punk. “Jump Into the Fire” reimagines Harry Nilsson’s classic tune. Here, the band is actually somewhat faithful to the original version, merely adding P-Orridge’s distinctive monotone vocal stylings and some impressive overdriven guitar figures to Nilsson’s energetic progression. “How Does It Feel To Feel?,” the album’s second cover, is similarly upbeat, transforming The Creation’s garage rock number into a robust punk anthem.
The two original works featured on Alienist are less inspiring. They both offer some delightfully psychedelic textures. Furthermore, the band does pull off some moments of striking musicality (the bass-work is particularly impressive). However, both songs maintain incredibly static harmonies that do not feel as though they warrant such bloated run-times. The eponymous “Alienist” boasts a funky, ‘80s-esque rhythm that plays over a simple, two-chord progression. “I’m Looking For You” captures some eerily lush electronica that pulls the listener in at times; yet it slowly plods on for twelve-minutes straight, which feels a bit excessive since it fails to introduce much new content as the song progresses.
All things considered, Psychic TV’s latest album does mark a surprisingly digestible addition to their catalog. In spite of P-Orridge’s reputation as an iconoclast, Alienist is a remarkably accessible work that – while with its quirks – should appeal to a relatively broad spectrum of listeners. Fans of classic rock will enjoy Psychic TV’s take on Nilsson, while the jarring guitar riffs of “How Does It Feel to Feel?” will satiate punk-lovers’ appetite for frenzied discordance.
Unfortunately, Alienist suffers from repetition. Its longer tracks drag endlessly, exhausting their motivic content far before they conclude. Plenty of successful LPs have featured similarly short track-listings – hear Pink Floyd’s Animals. However, whereas these albums gradually introduced new and engaging harmonic material throughout the course of their longer tracks, in the case of Alienist, Psychic TV seem content riffing over the same progressions ad nauseam.
Despite these shortcomings, Alienist still is a worthwhile listen. Its covers (“Jump Into the Fire,” especially) are quite enjoyable. While its two original tracks do grow rather tiresome after a while, they still manage to offer some fascinating sonic environments. Don’t necessarily stay for the album’s thirty-five minute entirety, but definitely enjoy some of Alienist’s more memorable moments.