Sun City Girls - "The Bearded Hermes" (Napoleon & Josephine: Singles, Volume Two)
For any diehard Sun City Girls fan who doesn’t trawl the ‘net for the band’s rarities (that’s right, both of you), Napoleon & Josephine may be a minor coup. The impressively seamless-sounding disc collects b-sides, alternate takes and other leftovers from the sessions that produced 1989’s Torch of the Mystics (generally regarded as the Girls’ most approachable, most identifiably “rock” record) and Dante’s Disneyland Inferno (a sprawling exercise in Dadaist comedy). For anyone invested in the Sun City Girls’ creative arc, this stops a lot of the gaps. Even if you’ve already heard much of this, the comp will help sort it out.
While the preceding compilation You’re Never Alone With a Cigarette focused on the band’s washed-out, cacophonous desert psychedelia, most of Napoleon hews closer to absurdist theatre-of-the-mind side of the SCG vision. We get “Prick of the World” and “Sleazy Nashville,” faux-stoner-country romps that make Ween’s “Piss Up a Rope” sound reverent. We get “Insignificado,” an elliptical monologue from Alan Bishop’s “Uncle Jim” persona, amid a flurry of even less overt rants, Beat-y streams-of-consciousness and fake news feeds. And we get plenty of the cryptic political remarks that – even more than the headache-inducing skronk-tastic jam sessions, even more than SCG, Inc.’s freewheeling cultural appropriation – inspires such pointed distrust in critics resistant to the band’s charms but extra-sensitive to anything “irresponsible.”
Considering that most of this stuff has been floating around in collector circles for years, the most interesting thing about Napoleon & Josephine is how well it holds together as an album. There are variations in sound quality, but the pieces flow together well and come out sounding like a “show.” If nothing else, it makes this side of the Girls’ work much less intimidating than it seemed before.
Maybe this stuff belongs buried deep in the band’s catalog, where only confirmed fanatics can get to it. As an “introduction,” it would likely confuse neophytes, hard. But since the death of drummer Charles Gocher and the effective dissolution of SCG as we knew them, it seems like an appropriate time to take another gander at these disorienting sketches, to get a broader idea of the group’s ultimate legacy. The flood of new material has stopped. But there are a lot of complex thrills hidden in the riverbed.