With a steady diet of Wire and their warped vision of creating experimental music with pop hooks, many New Zealand bands on the legendary Flying Nun label made music that was melodic and memorable but by throwing traditional pop models out the window and bringing a more aggressive and avant-garde approach to their songwriting, these bands forged an undeniable link in the rock and roll chain. Chris Knox is no exception to this, as he has since become one of New Zealand’s greatest exports with his band Tall Dwarfs as well as his various solo works. With recent reissues via Flying Nun/Captured Tracks, I wanted to dive head first into his second full-length album, 1989’s Seizure.
Like a distorted dream, Chris Knox’s Seizure begins with the line “I know why/fish swim in the sky/beat their leather wings/until they’re high and dry” as the opening track “The Face of Fashion” kicks off the unique ride that Seizure provides. After the fuzz pop of track one comes to a close, we get the clever “The Woman Inside Of Me” where Knox wishes he could tap into his femininity to such an extent that he could see men as women do. “Statement Of Intent” kicks things up a notch with its punchy punk energy and lyrical content that attacks the New Zealand music industry. Knox’s use of looped percussive elements begins to stand out on this track and mutates as we experience “Filling Me” and “Not Given Lightly”, which is often regarded as the greatest love song to ever come out of New Zealand. If the snaps in the background don’t lodge their way into your brain, then the sublimely catchy choruses will have you swaying to the jangle and fuzz that come together so harmoniously. “Break!” is a blown out gallop that embraces the more abrasive side of Chris Knox, continuing the album’s ability to embrace the experimental while holding on to shattered pieces of the conventional. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is sung in a baritone whisper and the lyrics evoke strange images of a man who is content being powerless beneath the crushing weight of love or maybe just infatuation. The contrast of romantic sentiments and grotesque actions make this song a mysterious end to side one.
Side two begins with “Wanna”, a song punctuated by the tape loop that establishes the rhythm as the guitar and vocals decide to jump in moments later and continue the feel of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as the lyrics reference blood, semen, and other bodily fluids that maybe help him establish a human connection with whoever he is singing to. “And I Will Cry” brings another stripped down pop gem to the platter as “we live/we love/we live your hand inside my glove/I sing/you carve/we bring together our two halves.” Another song that references some sort of self-mutilation in the name of love, each chorus extends an offer to pluck out his eyes for the one he adores. Maybe he makes this plea in case the tears he has offered aren’t enough to prove how he truly feels. There is a real romanticism in the desperation here and the album’s use of humor also allows you to know that he is self-aware and able to playfully acknowledge that he is slowly losing his mind or whatever is left of it. Cue the next track “Rapist” (credited as “All Men Are Rapists” on the lyric insert) where he once again tackles the inner workings of the male brain. As he grows older, the sexual objectification of women has become less and less a driving force in his everyday decision-making but due to being brought up like a “man”, it may take years for him to fully rid himself of this affliction.
The album picks up again with “Grand Mal” and then comes back down with “Voyeur”, a track with very little instrumentation that employs a cheery bubblegum vocal arrangement to create a stark duality as the lyrics capture vivid images of pain and suffering and how people not only like to watch but want to take part in the misery they are witnessing. The album marches on with two upbeat songs, the very direct “Honesty’s Not Enough” and “My Dumb Luck” which employs some of Knox’s most tongue in cheek writing as he begins with locking away his best qualities with only “the shit left outside” and ultimately represses his worst qualities to let the better side-show. “Ache” ends the album with a gradual rise in volume before coming back down again. The subdued vocal that weaves its way above and below the rising and falling guitar is a minute long send-off that leaves the spirit of Seizure swinging between your ears.
This album is a slice of demented brilliance and recommended to anyone who knows what it is to feel and fail or laugh and lament as the album is a true testament to the chaotic shifts of the human experience.