While the bulk of Gibby Haynes’ pseudo-solo debut could be stacked right alongside great Butthole Surfers side projects like Daddy Longhead or P or the Jack Officers (or that cameo in Jarmusch’s Dead Man), it feels more like the frontman of everyone’s favorite Texas acid trip is staking his claim here as a creative force in his own right. Given, there’s nothing sonically speaking on Gibby Haynes and His Problem that the Butthole Surfers haven’t covered, and the record’s best tracks are more reminiscent of late-period discs like Independent Worm Saloon or Electriclarryland than experimental gems like Hairway To Steven. But this is still Gibby-goddamn-Haynes, and it’s a testament to his continuing energy and vitality as a vocalist and performer that even the predictable or more straight-forward “alternative” fare on the disc leaves its mark.
For proof, don’t look much past the first track. The album-opening “Kaiser” is as radio-friendly as it is anthemic, but Haynes keeps the crunchy guitar power chords and soaring choruses from feeling tired with spoken bull-horn refrains and his sometimes-warbling, always-liberating wail. Lyrically, the track’s nonsense non-rhymes (“I’ll be the Kaiser / You’ll wear the diapers / We’ll go through the money / like it was nothing”) owe a bit to unanticipated hits like 1996’s “Pepper,” but the choruses are bizarre for a different, if less conscious, reason. They may show Haynes lamenting, if only briefly, the infamous recklessness of younger days. (“Up all day, out all night / Some kind of distraction,” he sings. “It’s okay, we’re all right / No satisfaction.” The refrains get inverted and repeated several times over.)
Distorted guitars and Haynes’ wild-eyed wails dominate the disc elsewhere, whether it’s in the let’s-start-moshing chorus of “15,000,” the familiar solos of “Charlie,” the noisy clap-trap builds in “I Need Some Help,” the catchy, 70s punk/rock chops of “Nights,” or the album-closing “Redneck Sex,” another unlikely (and as crude as you’d expect) radio hit just waiting to happen.
Elsewhere, it’s the unexpected details that win the day. Sure, there’s some loud guitars near the end of “Woo” (and some quirky keyboard/guitar interplay near the beginning), but the moment that sells the song falls in the closing seconds, when Haynes plainly sings “I would go anywhere, anywhere I want / Now, baby / I would do anything, anything at all” around guitars and the spacey whistle of an organ.
In “Stop Foolin’,” Haynes’ performance gets further muted, reduced to smoky — but inviting — narration over glassy guitar figures, occasional synth washes, a spare solo, and surprisingly subtle sound clips. In “Letter,” Haynes calls to mind the psychic rush of a carnival scene not (as you’d expect) through the nightmarish catalog of a freak show but through some subdued but trippy vocals and pumping B-52s-inspired keys. In the borderline-ballad “Dream Machine,” Haynes’ best moments come when he shares the spotlight with a carefully shuffling acoustic guitar, occasional keyboard, electric guitar interjections, and tender piano.
There are some who have arguably always looked at Haynes as a bit of a musical oddity, a bombastic punk singer like David Yow or Jello Biafra crossed with a carnival barker or a Surrealist painter or a post-Floyd Syd Barrett. (This is a man, we must remember, who not only dreamt of Lee Harvey’s grave and suggested the lord is a monkey but also sang about X-rays of girls passing gas.) But there was always a kind of strange method to Haynes’ madness, an attention to craft and songwriting that percolated behind the curtains of the Butthole Surfers’ clearly, um, mind-altered soundscapes.
On Gibby Haynes and His Problem, the musician brings those more level-handed and level-headed talents to the fore without sacrificing any of the energy or zaniness for which he’s known. It’s not Haynes’ finest moment, but in a career as storied as his, that’s a tall order to fill. To say the very least, though, he seems more than ready to start filling it. – Delusions of Adequacy, Feb. 21, 2005