Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

The Downside Special

The Downside Special

AOTM #50, July 2004ce
Released 1998 on Cambodia Recordings
  1. Highway (4.58)
  2. Afterglow (4.27)
  3. Petty Shit (1.38)
  4. Canker (2.20)
  5. Mercury Millie (7.00)
  6. Heart of a Dog (3.11)
  7. Desperation (4.06)
  8. Back to the Top (4.03)
  9. Red the Sign Post (3.31)
  10. Just a little bit (7.37)
  11. I Got Mine (4.16)
  12. I’ll Know Tomorrow (1.57)
  13. Rintrah (10.13)

Note: These records were retrieved from Dave Cintron’s flooded basement and sat around for years until I hecked him to design me a new sleeve and get some over here for our merchandiser. So these are real full production CDs with a specially-designed new sleeve from a songwriter whose art and design is central to his entire trip.

Heart of a Dog

He’s back and – as always – it’s personal. More stylised ravings from that formulaic and highly-codified songwriter Dave Cintron, this time from a coupla years back in his proto-Terminal Lovers guise, in which he wuz joined by second guitarist Frank Vazzano and sisters Barb and Caroline Eckles, an all-female rhythm-section’ed ensemble that makes up The Downside Special. As Terminal Lovers operates on more of a Cintron & Heavy Friends type of affair and this line-up recorded THE DOWNSIDE SPECIAL album in its entirety, it could reasonably be asserted that The Downside Special was far more of a real group than Terminal Lovers are ever pretending to be, having played the role not just of a vehicle for Herr Cintron’s songs but also as the practise mat on which he learned to perfect the moves he would later exhibit so successfully for us on DRAMA PIT (& LOAN). That said, the jams within this LP are not quite as far flung, though often are just as long. By the way, the unearthly noises of this album are made by the unlikely-named gobulophones of the Tolkeinnesque misfit Steve Golub (strange that, as ‘twas Cintron himself who plays the noise role in another early Cleveland ensemble SpeakerCranker)

‘Highway’ opens like a rusty juggernaut clattering ’cross a wide-opened Middle Eastern highway. The sound is an expansively-stereo’d heavyweight rock’n’roll ensemble - a BEGGAR’S BANQUET Jagger fronting a LUST FOR LIFE-period two car garage band. ‘Afterglow’ is more of the same bile, only with an even more ludicrously ur-bass vocal like a gargling cartoon vacuum cleaner, and accompanied by a rehabilitated Straight James Williamson alternating on verses of ‘Double Vegetation’ and choruses of ‘She’s Lost Control’ guitar. This was the first and only 45 that The Downside Special released (no need to search out the vinyl as the B-side ‘Honey’ is just a sub-standard un-Cintronic bawl), and Cintron’s walking in a Spaghetti Western landscape. Ludicrous crackle-mouthed vocals and sludge-trudged Big Monolithic Riffs offer us a scenario in which he’s the lawman walking up the hill to the deserted house to where the shots rang. ‘Petty Shit’ is the closest Cintron comes to returning to the roots of hissuper-generic mid-90s grunge trio Dimbulb, with ramalama and lyrics about how he doesn’t worry and doesn’t care, like we should believe this for one moment of such a musical obsessive. ‘Canker’ is big, gasping-for-air Stooged-out reach-for-the-sky riffery that’s maybe about something specific but I can’t claim to get close to reaching it. Pre-echoes of Terminal Lovers’ big Muse ballads ‘Stella’ and Rising Tide’ can be seen in the crawling, creeping ‘Mercury Millie’, in which Cintron’s spirally upward heavy riffing tells of of a quicksilver muse who ‘ates the sound of breaking glass.’ ‘Heart of a Dog’ is the best yet re-write of the Stooges’ ‘Penetration’, even beating Suicide’s fine second LP for sheer adherence to the plan. But even better is Dave Cintron’s percipient use of the Bulkakov metaphor in this, his proto-everything preparation album. For, like The Downside Special record itself, Mikhail Bulgakov’s excellent-in-parts novel HEART OF A DOG was in every way his preparation for the later masterwork MASTER & MARGERITA. Bulgakov used that book as a vehicle for practising the careful craftsmanship employed in the later work, just as Cintron uses this album as a vehicle of apprenticeship.

THE DOWNSIDE SPECIAL, original Cambodia Recordings release, 1998

‘Desperation’ is the shuffle’n’creak of Terminal Lovers’ ‘Straight Pipe Solution’ as refracted through the same sonic industrialised Beefheartian Cleveland filter that The New Lou Reeds have exhibited on their new LP SCREW (check out their ‘acoustic ‘Peter Laughner’ LP closer, babies – it sucks and rocks simulateously. O yes). Here on ‘Desperation’, there’s a fine and dryest-of-dry spoons-on-crockery-type of tuned percussion bashing away throughout, like parts of Brian Jones’ ‘Under My Thumb’ marimba had been semi-dug up and only the parts protruding above the ground surface could emit any sound whatsoever. ‘Desperation’ is not a particularly catchy bastard, but it’s got one helluva Natmosphere which then suddenly fades out in the new riff that crops up next song as ‘Back to the Top’, a very STICKY FINGERS-y almost progressive blues trip like ‘Stray Cat Blues’ beating on the doors of ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?’ Hail, an over-amped mouth harp wouldn’t go amiss herein, brother and sisters. Next up is the sixties re-vamp ‘Red the Sign Post’, originally done by Fifty Foot Hose, and here pushed into almost Comets on Fire territory. I say almost because the FIELD RECORDING FROM THE SUN-period Comets band woulda kicked this version’s dick into the dust. That isn’t to say this versh don’t smoke my pole none, just that it pulls its punches in a somewhat un-Cintronic manner. But believe me it still socks it to ya! ‘Just a little Bit’ ain’t the OUTSIDEINSIDE-period Blue Cheer song, but is a frantically melodic and driving ballad like Husker Du’s ‘Something I Learned Today’. The bass and guitars concoct a melange of spiky driving folk grunge, until they drop down and down into a Keltiberian pipes’n’drum coming-cross-the-marshes Dark Ages Velvets battlescape somewhat redolent of Terminal Lovers later intro to ‘Rising Tide’. I know I keep on comparing the two LPs. But part of Cintron’s strength is his ability to re-visit a particular style of his and excavate to a point of improvement, especially his willingness to go ambient on us right in the middle of a moshive hulkengroove.


I suppose the biggest curve ball is the Dead Sea stumble of ‘I Got Mine’, whose 1978-ness uncannily catches THE MODERN DANCE mood of such tracks as ‘Chinese Radiation’ and ‘Laughing’, complete with that block white noise of EML synthesizer that janitor-of-lunacy Allen Ravenstein loved to fling at us from time to time. Finally the track rises to a beautiful Glam Descend ‘I Got Mine… I Got Mine’ sings Cintron over’n’over wistful and delightful. Then, it’s off back into the RAW POWER territory of ‘I’ll Know Tomorrow’, before the record closes with the gleefully euphoric ‘I can fly’ repeated chorus of the ten minute-plus ‘Rintrah’, whose ‘All Day & All of the Night’ riffing builds and builds not to a crescendo but to a plateau of spaced out Bo Diddley scrawl, in which the dual guitars of Cintron and Vazzano really blow big time, until dropping down and down into a crisp Ravenstein-informed ‘Five Years’ drum beat, out of which Spanish electric guitar themes rise, alternating by a cliched power-grunge Nirvana-esque coda. Up and up we go into yet another haranging from deepinahearta Cintronland, as the ever changing chordal landscape builds and builds like a more full-on and extreme versh of The Soft Boys’ similarly-beautiful progressive De-twat Disco ending to ‘The Rat’s Prayer’.

This album certainly ain’t the honed and finished polished frogmarch through Dave Cintron’s melting plastic brain that would burst forth so eminently with DRAMA PIT (& LOAN), but it’s rawness and confident adherence to the codes (monolithic sludge rule 1, Warholian Caledonian Ambience rule 2, archetypal Jaggeresque Cleveland XKE-Type motormouth rule 3) allows us into the basement of the temple that was soon to be built. It’s a subterranean pleasure in there, ladies’n’gentlemen. Please ask this custodian if you wanna borrow the keys!

The Downside Special Discography

THE DOWNSIDE SPECIAL (Cambodia Recordings 1998)
THE DOWNSIDE SPECIAL (Cambodia Recordings
repackaged Head Heritage limited edition 2004)

7” singles

‘Afterglow’ b/w ‘Honey’ (Cambodia CAM 006 1997)