Now somewhere in the realms of prog/psych/metal/whatever, at one point Norway's Motopsycho were among the crop of potential "next big things" in a post-Nirvana world, creating music that wasn't far removed from the "alternative" scene that would soon be exploited and plundered to give us the likes of Nickleback and the existence of "nu-metal". Even then, however, there was a streak of weirdness that the band would later tap into more deeply, and on the double CD/triple LP Timothy's Monster, the band perfectly balanced catchy rock with bizarre outbursts. Long a cult favorite, this set reproduces the original album in its entirety (the US and UK versions edited the longer pieces to make it fit on a single disc), with an unreleased "first draft" of the album, and a disc full of outtakes/B-sides. It’s a lot to digest, but even for the casual fan, it's a strong set.
It's hard to not feel a bit of nostalgia when listening to this album, even though I wasn’t aware of it when it first appeared. I was a freshman in high school when it initially came out, and while I was absorbed into the world of second generation industrial music, I was still hearing and appreciating a lot of the "alternative rock" that defined 120 Minutes and other video shows. Timothy's Monster has a lot of these sounds…the jangly guitars, the overdriven bass, sharp drum tunings, etc., but never does it feel dated or derivative, there are simply too many brilliantly weird moments to prevent that. For example: on a quick listen "A Shrug & A Fistful" sounds like conventional alternative pop, but upon closer inspection, the harsh white noise blasts, guitar abuse and banjo parts clearly keep it strange. "Kill Some Day" is like the surging, anthem-like chorus of a song held in statis for the full duration: it mostly keeps the heavy, chugging sound for its full seven minute duration. "On My Pillow" even channels some of Pavement's slower, lurching songs without the intentional amateur sound and with the addition of some Theremin.
The longer tracks bring this out even more: the ten minute "Giftland" opens with abstract noise, then slowly becomes shaped into a dramatic, developing track with dual drummers, each one hard panned into a separate channel and later includes cinematic string flourishes, all building to a loud crescendo and then quietly closing out. "The Wheel" is mostly propelled by an organ/bass sound that also explodes dramatically, but for the latter portion is subjected to heavy effects and processing to make the sound even more unconventional than it started with.
The unreleased "first edition" of the album that constitutes disc three feels like a dry run or demo version of what was finally released, and includes some tracks that were left as B-sides or never heard from again. For the material that appeared on the final release, there aren't significant differences: "Leave It Like That" has a thinner sound and a little less drama overall, and "A Shrug & A Fistful" has some hard panned guitar and a stop/start structure that wasn’t as prominent in the final version. The tracks that never were heard from again make sense being excised in the end though, "On The Toad Again" is a plodding screamfest that marries old school Sabbath to '90s grunge metal, but actually works in a fun sort of way, but would be completely out of place on the album. The same for the appropriately titled "Very 90's, Very Aware," which also leans more into rapid fire drums and grungy bass, its simplicity is its weakest spot and makes it far less engaging than most of the other material here.
The final disc comprises b-sides and outtakes from the album, and it is what would be expected, consisting of odd experiments that sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. The metal tendencies are on display once again with "Seethe," but with the tight, rudimentary rhythmic guitar parts it resembles Psalm 69-era Ministry, which I personally think is a good thing. "Jr" is at its core a song that would have been appropriate on the album, but is heavily muffled and filtered to the point it sounds like it’s playing on a shitty boom box next door. "Mr. Butterclut Goes To The Fair, Meets The Viscount, And That's Where We Leave Him At The End of This Episode…" has a title that's longer than the song itself, but is an odd piece of soundtracky material that could be the backing for a radio play that is bizarrely brilliant. The closing "Sonnyboy Gaybar" also is a goofy gem, written five minutes before it was recorded live. It's a Norwegian take on American country/bluegrass, and is as strange as one would expect.
At first I was suspicious how this set would appeal to the "average" listener. Often these deluxe expanded reissues are packed with subtle remixes or demos that are interesting the first time they’re heard, and then ignored afterward. This is an exception to that rule, because even people who are hearing this album for the first time can appreciate the supplemental material. A few of the tracks on disc three are hard to differentiate from their final versions, but those are few and far between. There's a lot of material to take in here, but it’s almost all compelling, and even those occasional missteps in the bonus material aren’t nearly as bad as other band’s unheard stuff. It might be a bit much to play in one sitting, but none of these discs are stinkers.
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