Nurse Without Inspiration: Huffin’ Rag Blues


The new NWW album, Huffin\' Rag Blues

The first sign there was a problem with Huffing Rag Blues was the cover.  Unlike earlier records such as Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table Between a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella (featuring photos from s&m magazines) or recent records like Salt Marie Celeste, the cover of Huffin’ Rag Blues did not even attempt to be disturbing, or it has failed so completely that it is humorous.  Part of the appeal of Nurse With Wound is that it is so intensely scary at points; Homotopy To Marie, placed at 61 in Pitchfork Media’s best records of the 1980s, was described in said article as “a twisted masterpiece of minimalism whispering terrifying suggestions of death rituals and torture chambers”.  But Huffin’ Rag Blues is not scary.  The cover might attempt to be “subversive”, and so might the title, but subversion is not scary; it is amusing when done right.  And Huffin’ Rag Blues is not done right.  Is this record pretentious? Yes, in that it was considered good enough to put out.  

What’s the sound of the record? There are jazzlike rhythms and a lounge atmosphere.  Thirty-five seconds through the first real song, “Groove Grease (Hot Catz)” , I felt like taking Steven Stapleton and shoving him down the shaft of the elevator where he got the music for this horrible, horrible track.  How bad is it? Well, if Weird Al Yankovic parodied this song (bear with me), it would be more threatening and abrasive than it is now. And then the title of the song… Idiotic. But when you think about it, so is “The Tumultuous Upsurge (Of Lasting Hatred)”.  At least “The Tumultuous Upsurge…” had music scary enough to back up the title.  There is no music scary enough to redeem any of the titles on “Huffin’ Rag Blues (Worst one: Juice Head Crazy Lady.  It just lends itself to images of David Lee Roth singing).

This song is a blueprint for the rest of the long-winded album, which feels even longer than other NWW records because there’s so little going on.  When “Homotopy to Marie” (the song) goes on for 16 minutes, it uses the time both to build tension and fear and to support Stapleton’s incredible musique concrete imagination.  When “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg” goes on for 14 minutes, it clutters the soundscape with an ultrarepetitive shaker and makes the song a chore.  

Overall, Huffin’ Rag Blues is a total disappointment, both conceptually and musically. Finally, Stapleton’s claim that NWW is not industrial rings true; this is zero-effort malt-o-meal muzak put out by an artist formerly known as someone with substance.  I sure hope he reissues Merzbild Schwet soon.


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