Health & Beauty – Shame Engine/Blood Pleasure (Wichita Recordings)
Since before I was buying albums myself, I was always interested in the artwork. From picking up the “album covers artwork” book in the school library and leafing through the pages, I was hooked. Whether it was Jefferson Airplane‘s Surrealistic Pillow or Jimi Hendrix‘s Are You Experienced and many more besides, it was the magical quality provided by the band’s graphic artist that held as much majesty as the music held in the grooves. Of course, I have discovered what was held in those grooves now, bought the albums and rediscovered the majesty for a second time, when my paper round money would allow of course. But I start at this point because Chicagoans Health & Beauty have produced an album complete with striking sleeve-work, as well as similarly striking content in ‘them there grooves’. As Motown founder Berry Gordy once said, “because it’s what’s in the groove that counts.”
Shame Engine/Blood Pleasure is a work that was completed after a quartet version of the band featuring; frontman Brian J Sulpizio, guitarist Jake Acosta, drummer Seth Vanek, and bassist Bill Satek had finished an intensive three-week tour in late 2017, and their exhaustion is projected by rumbling bass and howling guitar on ‘Saturday Night‘, as Sulpizio repeats the title over and over, almost to infinity, as the few lyrics are absorbed by an exhaustion only experienced from a round-the-clock jam, preceded by those heavy tour commitments. All that exhaustion, I can only gather, has made this album a finer work, as the stories told possess a fatigue that only serves to add to what is on offer.
“Yr Wives“, features a thundering bass line, accompanied by a weary lead guitar, which says more than any lyric ever could, until Sulpizio chimes in with a wonderful vocal reminiscent of Neil Young. It has been said that this likeness waits until the album’s penultimate track ‘Racecourse‘, which sure enough features a country weary Young, but it’s the ‘Free World” Young to whom I refer. ‘Rat Shack‘ is a jazz café number, featuring a tremolo laden undercurrent and horns on the front line, as the vocal sings a lament. On ‘Clown‘, the listener is allowed access to the end of a romance, where the perpetrator tries to reason exactly where he has gone wrong, “…after all this time, you think I know my mistakes?” This continues to the best lyric I have heard in quite some time, “We framed ourselves in this boxing match between genitals” and as this number continues, to a slumbering tune, the thought crosses my mind that my English, perhaps, is failing to translate Sulpizio’s Chicago drawl as adequately as I would like, but here I feel that I have done all I can, and the picture painted is wonderful.
‘Lack‘ is another sleepy number, from the chaos apparent on the introduction to ‘Bottom Leaves, which turns into slumber along the way, as the vocalist goes back and forth between these states, until he escapes, breathless from such proceedings. This album is their 7th studio work, although only one other is easily located, 2016’s No Scare, featuring the track ‘No Beyoncé‘, which I have to say is in itself worth the cover fee! But back to Shame Engine/Blood Pleasure, which I would describe as like drinking a smoky cappuccino, in a coffee aroma filled café, while reading a favourite magazine, and this whilst having all the time in the world at your fingertips. Perhaps an unachievable aim, but the album’s so good that, even if I have to cope with the former, without the latter, I’ll be happy.
Shame Engine/Blood Pleasure is out on 22nd November through Wichita Recordings.
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