Chainsaw Kittens – Violent Religion

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I came across this album freshman year of college. I remember reading about it in SPIN magazine. It’s possible I borrowed it from my friend Duke, but I am not sure. Certainly, I went out and got a copy soon after if that’s the case. Little did I know then that I had encountered what would become one of the great unsung American bands of the 90s. Emerging from Norman, Oklahoma, Chainsaw Kittens were the vehicle for singer/songwriter/guitarist Tyson Meade (though the contributions of guitarist/producer Trent Bell should not be overlooked). Meade and Bell piloted the band through phases involving glam, punk, and pop, with an unflinching examination of what it meant to be a gay man.

What I Think of This Album

Well, I’ve run into a slight problem in that my CD player will not recognize this disc. I’ve had to re-listen to it on a streaming service through inadequate speakers, which is . . . not awesome. Regardless, I stand by everything I say about it.

The Kittens’ debut is their rawest, messiest, possibly loudest album; the guitars make a lot of noise but rarely do anything distinctive. Still, the melodies were there, and both Meade’s forceful vision and his banshee wail easily set this band apart right from the beginning. The story is that Meade was already in his late 20’s when he joined up with a bunch of high school kids to form Chainsaw Kittens. Bell joined the band soon thereafter and the rhythm section was overhauled in short order (though not before recording this album), with only guitarist/songwriter Mark Metzger remaining for the near-future (he would also eventually depart). Fronting this sort of purposely threadbare New York Dolls meets the Stooges-ish collection of misfits, Meade’s charisma and presence carry the album (and the band), making songs that would otherwise be ridiculous or silly come across like the most important things in the world.

“Bloodstorm” kicks things off with purpose, Meade casually exclaiming “Hey!” as a pleasing bass figure ensnares your brain; Meade stretches out his words (sometimes evoking Johnny Rotten) and makes the dubious claim “I am the bloodstorm / And I am your / Love / Song” but by the time we get to that point, you and me and everyone else are sold on it. Sample-heavy “Skinned Knees (kitten theme)” is a bit much. Ok, it’s a lot much – this is like a tape-splicing experiment courtesy of Satan’s cousin, who is a DJ on the side – but it does start out with a sample from the movie Heathers (“fuck me gently with a chainsaw”), which is really the only positive I can cite here. At under two minutes, it is about two minutes too long.

I admit that it does not bode well that this silly indulgence flows seamlessly into the next song, the sludgy “Boyfriend Song,” itself reliant on samples. That said, I like the crow (?) noises (just . . . yes, there are crow noises). After this, things improve back to the quality of “Bloodstorm.” The sassy, therapy-influenced “Mother (of the ancient birth)” stomps and struts and handclaps all the way down the avenue. The purest pop song follows on the swooning, damaged “I’m Waiting (leanne’s song).” Meade PILES on the drama on the “Here At the End,” which starts out as a fizzy rocker and then drastically downshifts into a delicate ballad, permitting Meade to emote all over your ears. A guest is credited with “ebotron” on this song, but it just sounds like an ebow.

“Bliss (we’re small)” – what’s with all the fucking parentheticals, the pot asked the kettle – is a fun, dark celebration of weirdness, during which Meade adopts some of Morrissey’s vocal tics. “Feeling Like a Drugstore” is appropriately titled, all mascara, hip huggers, platform shoes, and downers. “Savior Boyfriend Collides” is a better version of “Here At the End,” handling the rhythmic and tonal shift with more aplomb, less histrionics, and a better melody. The title track is a disturbing but thoroughly engaging disquisition on blood, disciples, martyrs, and flesh; god help him, Meade knows how to carry a song. When he repeats “bleed on the bleeding,” his voice multiple tracked with his own harmonies, it is utterly thrilling.

The best thing about “Death Out At Party Central” is its title; this is an energetic, bizarre romp but basically filler (notable for Meade employing a Johnny Rotten-like drawl at some times and truly unhinged screaming at others). The album closes on the sympathetic piano ballad “She’s Gone Mad,” which actually sounds sincere (apparently fellow Oklahomans the Flaming Lips covered this). This music was probably too weird for most people, even in 1990 (Billy Corgan was supposedly a fan, which I think only proves my point). I find it endlessly fascinating.

The Best Thing About This Album

Tyson Meade’s voice is like the Eighth Wonder of the World (and probably ranks higher within the count of Wonders of Oklahoma).

Release Date

October, 1990

The Cover Art

Look, Meade is a talented dude, but someone should have told him he could not have his painting on the cover. Enough. You’re already the frontperson and primary songwriter – don’t be greedy. The allcaps KITTENS is sort of confusing. I’m not big on the font used for the album title. The overall composition of this cover seems fairly amateurish.

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