The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy: Sleepwalking
Late in 1999, Pat and Max convened in Peter Crouch’s home studio in London to record an album of new material. Released the following year, Rotten Soul (Vinyl Japan, 2000) contains some of the best Jazz Butcher songs ever recorded, but the restrictive studio environment means they’re not always the best imaginable versions. In particular, the drum machine, though expertly and subtly programmed, is still a drum machine, and lacks the variation in accent and timing that live drums would have allowed. It works best on the songs where its appearance is minimal, and on those (like ‘Mister Siberia’ and ‘Tough Priest’) conceived as glacial and impersonal; it also works pretty well on ‘Come On, Marie’, a song where it becomes more obvious than ever how much Pat has learned from Motown, and where a fairly strict, mechanical rhythm is entirely suitable. It’s least good on ‘Niagara’, a great song, but one that needs a more live feel.
‘Sleepwalking’ is apparently a song that Pat had written some years previously: his notebook from around the time of Illuminate mentions it, with a big note saying ‘Rejected for the third album running’; so it may date back to 1991 and Condition Blue. That it’s a song about death, and about someone dying slowly and painfully, is only an interpretation — it may be a song about deep depression, or being trapped in a relationship and not having the strength to let go — and I guess my seeing it this way is influenced by the same album having Max Eider’s song ‘Diamorphine’ on it. (And if that’s not a song about palliative care, I don’t know what is.)
Musically it starts in an understated way: a drum pattern, a rhythm guitar, a bass guitar, the vocals, and Pat Beirne’s harmonica embellishments; but it builds slowly and unostentatiously; there’s a continual building up of pressure which the guitar solo only partly releases. In the choruses the ‘on and on and on and on’ builds it, while the ‘sleepwalking’ releases it; Pat’s vocals are nuanced in tone, especially in the choruses. This could be, reading the lyrics, a terribly bleak song, but it’s given warmth and humanity by the vocals, the harmonica, and Max’s guitar parts (when they come in, from 1.20 onwards). It doesn’t build to the volume or the levels of distortion that some of the songs on Condition Blue did, but the feeling of restraint throughout makes it all the more powerful.