Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Concept Albums —
Maggots: The Record

Maggots: The Record was The Plasmatics' swan song. I don't know that anyone was expecting much from it when it was released in 1987, especially after singer Wendy O. Williams' brief but lamentable detour into KISS territory with her first solo album.
The subculture that helped put The Plasmatics on the map was also long dead, replaced by a dirtier, less flamboyant punk scene. Even though they'd been recording for less than a decade The Plasmatics were almost dinosaurs.

But that didn't mean they didn't still have a few tricks up their sleeve. As artists like The Damned, Ozzy Osbourne and even the surviving members of the Sex Pistols were softening their sounds to gain radio airplay, The Plasmatics put their act on a diet of steroids, raw meat and spanish fly. The result was Maggots: The Record, and album as smart as it is dumb, and as mean as ... well, it's just plain mean.
Maggots is a narrative concept album that mixes Toho- and Troma-style monster movies with a (relatively) subtle social message. Set 25 years in "the future," green house gases have created genetic mutations, specifically giant, Godzilla-sized maggots that are threatening to destroy the world. Narrated by a Rod Serling sound-alike, the songs are intercut with vignettes concerning the "White family," self-absorbed suburbanites with no real interest in the planet's — or their own — survival.
The politics take a distant backseat to the horror and mayhem of the story, which is wickedly funny and so visually evocative that you might leave the experience thinking you'd sat through an actual movie. It also sounds like a template for metal and hardcore music that would be picked up by acts as diverse as GWAR, Tad and Soundgarden.
The downside? Maggots is surprisingly short. The album clocks in at less than 40 minutes. There's not a lot of room for songs amid the vignettes, but the few songs on the album are inventive and complex. I hate hate hate that Wendy O. Williams and the band called it quits after this album because the Plasmatics would have felt very much at home in the alt-rock scene that emerged in the years after its release.
But maybe Wendy had already set the bar too high. After years of risking her life on stage by blowing up cars, chainsawing TV sets and wading through the occasional army of redneck cops, there simply wasn't any place left for her to go. And it's a goddamn Shakespearean tragedy that a woman whose greatest talent was survival eventually took her own life.

Below is a video from one of the weirdest moments I've ever seen on television: The Plasmatics performing in full satanic glory with John Candy on SCTV.

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