In collaboration with a German label called Gasoline Boost, the Chicago record label Skin Graft released a run of AC/DC 7” tribute records in the late 90s. This one is referred to as “Sides 5 and 6” because it was the third in the series. I’m assuming most of the bands were doing the same as the two artists featured here – a kind of ironic deconstruction of AC/DC. Skin Graft also released comics with their records, hence the cartoonish cover which contains within its pages a post-modern comic strip in which you can see the comic and its creation sort of happening at the same time; mistakes crossed out, story-lines redeveloped, inchoate character sketches, and the result is, uh, tedious. Zeni Geva were a heavy metal/noise rock Japanese band who’ve been going since the early 90s and were still alive and rocking in 2011. They’ve released a bunch of albums through North American labels Skin Graft and Alternative Tentacles.
Big Balls… I was first introduced to this song by friends of mine at age sixteen. We were teenagers, my friends were into heavy metal—naturally they thought the song hilarious. I probably did too—I can’t remember. Oldham takes the song and whacks several shades of shit out of it by changing words, playing it in a depressed lo-fi country folk style, almost as if the microphone is halfway across the room, and somehow has his voice drop out of the mix at crucial spots to weaken the masculine nature of the song even further still. In doing so, he crafts an amusing, quite enjoyable masterpiece of understatement and irony. There’s a soft keyboard tone, providing most of the backing, a bit of acoustic guitar, and a submerged growly bass. There’s something about the way Oldham’s done this one song that singlehandedly evinces the whole Palace ethos. The major lyrical change is the final line of the chorus; where the original singer proudly shouts out, “But we’ve got the biggest balls of them all,” Oldham, who sings duet with himself here, instead offers us, “But they’re not the only balls of them all.” By changing the line only slightly, he pulls the rug from under the song’s boast more effectively than if he’d deliberately parodied it in a more openly comic way. And that’s his modus operandi here. The original song punned on ‘balls’ throughout to suggest a dance in a ballroom, but Oldham drops the ballroom jokes, loses the pun, adds several more meaningless lines in the verses and thus thoroughly undermines the song with his wry un-humour. And as if that wasn’t enough, he then throws in the line, “Once you’ve mouthed my testicles / You’ll know I’m not a liar / I’ve got great balls of fire,” which again, doesn’t so much satirize AC/DC as disenfranchise them of their brand of humour. This would all be pointless if the song itself was unlistenable, but instead, we get a catchy folk-ditty with what sounds to my ears like a completely new tune. It’s great, even if the mix is deliberately amateurish sounding. It’s kind of short at just over three minutes.
Let There Be Rock… I can’t say Japanese noise rock is my thing. Here we get a huge contrast to the Palace contribution with a loud hard kick drum, a solid heavy-metal guitar sound with lots of fuzz and a tiresome ‘death metal’ vocal. The words are completely indecipherable except for the chorus which actually sounds like “let be there rock” instead of “let there be rock,” which could be a deliberate Japanese affectation. Then we get a weird interlude with drum and a slowly rising guitar arpeggio, which after a minute or so gets wiped out by high speed lead guitar, fast drumming and some godawful wind-tunnel vocal screaming that is buried deep in the mix. It’s fairly hardcore though, with a big feedback breakdown at the end. Unless you’re a genuine AC/DC fan, I would have to say, forgettable.
The Palace song above is available on Guarapero: Lost Blues 2. This 7″ was the very last thing to be released under the ‘Palace’ name. Following this, Will Oldham began recording under the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy moniker. The first BPB single came out in 1998 – “Black Dissimulation b/w No Such As What I Want.“