Released back in 1998, Dance Of The Headless Bourgeoisie was Nomeansno’s 10th album and it is now finally getting the reissue treatment on Wrong/Southern Records. Why is this such a big deal? By the time most bands get to their 10th album (if they get to their 10th album) they’ve established a rut for themselves that they’re content to plough for ever more. Not so Nomeansno. Certainly they retained their own sound for Dance… but they were also pushing at the limits thematically and musically.
It is surprising to find that the album was labelled as jazzcore at the time, because all these years later, there’s nothing particularly jazzy about it. It possesses a large dollop of post-punk attack, a willingness to experiment and repeat endlessly, and incorporates numerous new musical avenues (and a couple of cul-de-sacs) along the way. To go so far as to call it jazzcore is to do this album a disservice; there’s a lot more to it than that.
All that being said, Dance… actually kicks off with two fairly straightforward tunes. This Story Must Be Told is rumbling punk with sharpened edges and deadly hooks. The lyrics are artfully written, alluding to sexual assault and the guilt felt in its aftermath, yet they also manage to tie in a little whaling narrative thread too. It’s a punchy but unsettling opening to the album, but its drawn out ending, whilst frantic and exhilarating, points to the one minor problem with this album, namely, that it could have done with a little judicial pruning here and there just to tighten things up. There are no such problems with Going Nowhere’s tale of a punctured ego and a car crash life though, and it is much more direct and effective as a result.
I’m An Asshole follows suit, like a kind of bad tempered, foul-mouthed sea-shanty. Abrasive it might be, but it’s really far too much fun and way too catchy to be considered even remotely offensive. If the band was aiming for offence at the time, then they were better at using their twisted lyrical narratives to do so. The kidnap story of title track for example might well be a little too much for the easily upset. Yet, for all of the threat contained threat contained in the lyrics and the strangulated percussive guitars, there’s something about it that remains curiously amusing. It’s possible that the brilliantly worded refrain of “we’ll blow up her head” delivered in the style of the Hooded Claw is supposed to be utterly serious, but there’s something so ridiculous Rob Wright’s delivery that it becomes hysterical (in more than one sense).
Quite why they then detour into an unnecessary coda at the end is anyone’s guess, but it does lend some credence to the idea of this being the band’s foray into jazz territory. That said, it’s the attack and experimentalism of everything that comes before that coda that sees the band pushing the limits of expectation. Similarly lengthy and troubling is the repetitive nature of The World Wasn’t Built In A Day. There’s a tension to be found in its metallic bass line as the narrator works through a nihilistic poem that finds freedom in a world wiped virtually clean of all people, there is an obvious sense of threat to be found but It is also balanced out with a dark feeling of liberation too.
There’s no liberation on the claustrophobic horror of The Rape, however. It pulses like a migraine and twists painfully constantly, coming across like one of Dead Kennedys‘ darkest offerings. If the band were finding the balance between humour and terror earlier on, here they clearly have a singular goal to unsettle and they nail it perfectly. Fortunately the album ends on a slightly lighter note, musically at least. Youth is a fine-tempered jaunt that calls to mind Minutemen, whilst Life Like is zips along in a Krautrock style whilst managing to be existential in a strangely upbeat manner.
Dance Of The Headless Bourgeoisie is still a peculiar and engaging album 10 years on, and one that fully deserves the re-issue treatment.