Take a trip back in time to Worcester, MA in the early 80’s, where The Prefab Messiahs, a group of psychedelic oddballs in cahoots with outsider folk wildman Bobb Trimble, blew minds and started fires with their unique brand of garage rock. The 4-piece, formed at Clark University, quickly made an impression on their adopted ‘Wormtown’ with an eccentricism, off-beat humor and lack of pretension that distinguished them from their shinier, well-packaged peers, and makes them sound so refreshingly on point to contemporary ears. Although the group achieved only moderate success in the early 80’s, never reaching far beyond their Massachusetts roots, this deliciously quirky band is finally receiving a proper second look – in the form of Devolver, an old collection of demos that long circulated on a CD-r, now lovingly remastered by those west coast DIY duders at Burger Records.
Following up on the 2011 reissue Peace, Love & Alienation (released on Gary War’s Fixed Identity label), the 27 tracks of Devolver span the breadth of The Prefab Messiah’s catalog, featuring early home recordings, studio cuts (produced with the help of spiritual mentor and friend Bobb Trimble), and infamous live recordings. This wide array of songs does proper justice to the Prefab Messiah’s eclectic, off the wall style. Some well produced tracks – ‘Desperately Happy’ and ’16th track’ – strongly echo the psychedelic 60’s in an affectionate revivalist spirit, while others point to their more experimental, free-form approach cultivated by just messing out with the other (non-music trained) art kids. Many of their songs – like live recorded ‘Sacred Cow,’ feature their first ‘drummer’ Ringo, a Casio drum machine that, like much of their raw, unhinged performances, would polarize their audience. Absurd, Dada-esque interludes about a mind-controlling ‘Donut Man’ echo the deadpan humor that runs throughout their tongue-in-cheek, socially critical lyrics. Songs about Mickey-D’s mass culture, Kafka metamorphosis, the empty-headed ‘in’ crowd, the devil and so on swirl together with sunny, jangly guitars, washes of wah-wah and copious reverb to form an unwieldy funky beast that only a post-industrial freak-zone like Worcester could produce.
These recordings of Prefab Messiahs, now 30 years old, jump out from the speakers with a vitality and relevance that few of their contemporaries (or ours, for that matter) can match. At heart, this is a cavalier, irreverent garage rock band just content to be jammin’ out and havin’ fun. Fortunately, this singular group survived the temporal dustbin, and lives on to mess with a new generation.
For more on the Prefab Messiahs, check out this awesome interview with WFMU, and be sure to check back with us about their next show from this still-active band.