Teenage Jesus and the Jerks / Beirut Slump - Shut Up and Bleed (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Teenage Jesus and the Jerks / Beirut Slump

Shut Up and Bleed (2008)


For a group that influenced generations of underground bands, you'd think Teenage Jesus and the Jerks would've written more songs. Not that that's a bad thing, but the innovative act, led by provocateur Lydia Lunch, takes up under 35 minutes of time on Shut Up and Bleed, a new retrospective that also includes Beirut Slump, another of Lunch's early bands. Factor in a few repeated songs (three versions of "Red Alert?") and some lo-fi live bootlegs, and it would appear the band barely got going. And you thought Texas Is the Reason broke up too soon.

But that brevity gives Shut Up and Bleed a few advantages: First, it's one-stop shopping for those looking to check out the Jerks' discography. With multiple takes and the addition of Beirut Slump, the album effectively replaces 1995's Everything, which you'd think would be hard to do given the title. Secondly, at a total running time of 51 minutes, the collection doesn't completely overwhelm the listener with its no wave anti-pop stance. And finally third, the band's output never turned bad.

It's weird hearing "experimental" music 30 years after its creation -- for me, I don't hear a band tearing down boundaries and destroying the concept of the pop song. I hear a middle ground between the angular rhythms of Joy Division and Wire and the more aggressive, sinister work of Big Black, albeit extremely truncated. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were all about dissonance -- sax squeals, out-of-tune singing, machine gun guitar. The band's most distinctive elements come from Lunch and saxophonist James Chance. Lunch is the little lady with a huge flippin' chip on her shoulder here, a teenage runaway ready for a fight, based on the sounds of her songs. When she isn't hacking away at her guitar, Lunch serves up some quality punk vox on tracks like "Orphans" and "Popularity Is So Boring." While she brings the fury, Chance brings the chaos. The sax is severely underutilized in punk rock, and Chance's work on Shut Up and Bleed shows just how much uglier the genre can go.

Compared to the incendiary Teenage Jesus and the Jerks portion of the disc, the Beirut Slump songs seem almost conventional. The band didn't have much of a run; they played three shows total. The band specializes in dreary ranting, creating an almost gothic framework for those who prefer their Cure more Three Imaginary Boys than Boys Don't Cry. But vocalist Bob Swope doesn't conjure the same stirring emotions as Lunch, who settled for just playing guitar in the band. And without Chance's horn contributions, Beirut Slump sounds emptier.

Not that Beirut Slump is bad by any means. The group put out a few worthwhile tunes and, coupled with the Teenage Jesus material, makes Shut Up and Bleed a worthwhile purchase for punk fans looking for a bit of history. If you like post-punk, early Sonic Youth, Exene Cervenka or pretty much any underground album released after 1979, it might be a good idea to pick up this slice of history.