Jeremy handed me the CD. It had an animal skull on the front which kind of made the rest of the generic looking insert seem to pop out more. Jeremy and I had grown up down the street from one another and our musical tastes were either a little bit apart or completely locked together, there tended to be very little middle ground. But at the same time, he always seemed to know that I would like something even if he didn’t or if I had never heard them. One particular birthday he gave me a singles collection from Meat Beat Manifesto. I had never heard of them before but it took one play of the album to know Jeremy was correct, I did indeed really dig the album. The same thing occurred when he came home from university for a summer and handed me Music for a Slaughtering Tribe by Wumpscut. I hadn’t heard of them until he handed over the disc but I instantly became a fan.
As much as I was a bit of a musical explorer, Jeremy would have no problem buying albums without hearing a single song just because he would discover they were an influence on a band that he loved or he had read about them in a book or magazine. So it came to be that Jeremy would loan me 12 Inch Anthology by Skinny Puppy which instantly turned me in a fan one verse into “Dig It”
To be fair, I was already predisposed in the case of Skinny Puppy. I had heard of them due to being an influence on Ministry and Nine Inch Nails but I hadn’t actually heard them until “Dig It” started to knock through my speakers.
To describe Skinny Puppy’s sound ends up being less about describing music than it does describing sounds. Even then, those descriptions will contradict each other. Some of the sounds on a Skinny Puppy track will be very clean and technological, other sounds will be wet and messy like the sound a cleaver makes going into a dead animal. The vocals could sound altered and guttural but you can still hear all the words clearly. It’s almost like listening to a surgical theater at times. And the most important thing to me at that time:
Skinny Puppy sounded different. There was and is nothing that sounds quite like Skinny Puppy.
12 Inch Anthology was a singles collection which was kind of like a greatest hits package for a band that rarely got radio airplay. A bunch of singles, a few remixes, it gave you a good overall feeling for what Skinny Puppy was about from 1984 to 1989. “Dig It” and “Assimilate” had layers both cold and wet that I loved. There were even some Looney Tune samples that I recognized off the bat. “Dig It” especially scratched that Nine Inch Nails had begun in my musical collection.
Oddly, 12 Inch Anthology is not an album I own or have ever owned. While I liked a number of the songs from it, I could never be bothered to purchase it. That being said, it wasn’t like Skinny Puppy didn’t get my fandom or my wallet. 12 Inch Anthology opened the portal a bit and I just jumped straight in. I would start with The Process (their most current and last album at that point as the band had recently self-destructed) and just kind of make my way backwards through their catalog. I would land at Last Rights which to this day is one of my favorite albums and definitely one of my favorite Skinny Puppy albums. I would explore the remixes, the singles, b-sides.
And then the internet would appear and open even more doors.
Napster would do a lot of damage to the music industry but for music nuts like me, it would open be the biggest gateway to bootlegs. I don’t mean stealing albums (which I don’t agree with), I mean honest to good bootlegs. Live albums, b-sides, rarities that were impossible to find or didn’t exist in a physical form. Skinny Puppy became my one of my big targets. I had to have more, the rarer the better. The first thing I would happen upon was a rough copy of “Track 10” or “Left Handshake”, the fabled missing track from Last Rights. Soon after I happened upon my favorite recording of Skinny Puppy. In the mid-80’s, the band had performed on the CBC radio show Brave New Waves. Someone posted the entire performance and it is amazing. Unlike their live shows (which are amazing), the total focus was on the music as opposed to the show. Some songs got changed up a little, others sounded exactly how you thought they should. The band itself is tight in that performance with Ogre flowing with the changes when needed and cEvin Key and Dwayne Goettel just keeping it locked musically. I still have that bootleg but would love an official version (it looks like Artofact Records has gotten permission to transfer some Brave New Waves performances to physical media so I can only hope).
Is 12 Inch Anthology the best that Skinny Puppy has to offer? No. But it can be that first step into a bigger, darker, scarier world of music. Skinny Puppy are like really good horror movies. They aren’t for everyone but for those people who are into them, they will love them.
Next Week: We’ll stay in the dark and get a little gothic.