Stage Frite’s evil mind

STAGE FRITE: Behind The Evil Mind

Release year: 2022
Label: Western Star Records

Stage Frite may not exactly be a household name, at least not for the readers of this here website focusing more on the harder, darker side of metal music and various strands of industrial. But even within their own framework, I daresay this British band are not exactly a name constantly on everyone’s lips.

There’s a pretty obvious reason for this, too: the band formed originally in the 80’s, released one album and disappeared like a fart into the Sahara, as we here in Finland say. I don’t know how a fart disappears in Sahara, but apparently it happens fast and without much hubbub. Anyhow, it took until 2017, a full 18 years since their debut, for Stage Frite to release a second album. Since then, though, the band have been pretty active: three more full-length albums have increased the size of their discography fivefold.

Their style, then? Well, those familiar with Western Star Records (who’re probably familiar with Stage Frite too, come think of it…) will be scarcely surprised: a very British form of psychobilly. The band released their debut album Island Of Lost Souls in 1989, during the heyday of the second wave of psychobilly, and that’s pretty much the foundation the band has retained since their comeback.

I always found it weird that the albums since the reformation have had a weird fetish about swans. The comeback album was Scarier Than Swans, followed by Swanabilly Kink (2019) and Revenge Of The Killer Coypu (2021), rounded off by the compilation 10″ Swan Song. For the first time since, the new album bears nary a reference to swans.

First I was baffled by the fixation on swans, and now I’m baffled by it’s sudden disappearance. Well, there is one passing reference to “swanabilly” on the unlisten closing track, a fun little ditty about UK rock & roll legend Pat Winn, which is also a warm-hearted dig at Western Star owner Alan Wilson (he of The Sharks fame), current bandmate of Winn.

Second wave psychobilly means a prominent slapping bass and elements of rockabilly and neobilly mixed in with a fair share of punk. And that’s exactly what Behind The Evil Mind parades before the listener. Apparently there have been some line-up changes, which seem to have affected the sound a bit: some of the other recent albums have had a bit harder, more distorted sound, whereas Behind The Evil Mask has a pleasantly airy sound. There’s still distortion on the guitar, but overall it seems the band have dialed back a bit on the harder edge.

And, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it works. I’m not gonna lie: for the most part, I haven’t cared so much for the post-comeback material. Some nice tracks, but ultimately a bit too little of that to keep me listening. The Swan Song 10″ was a decent cut-through of the best tracks. I feel that, by far, Behind The Evil Mind is the best of this newer crop of albums.

Sticking to the honesty, the album is not exactly a milestone or a latter day classic. Few of the songs are particularly memorable, there are few riffs that’ll stick with you, and no choruses you’ll find yourself singing days on end. The album in no way renews or reinvents psychobilly, nor does it take it to a new level. But, still – and most significantly – there’s something fun about Behind The Evil Mind. It’s an album that sounds a bit middle-aged, lacking that wildness and bravado of the younger days of psychobilly, but with solid songs and a laid-back, fun feeling, it’s an album that doesn’t bore.

And that’s the bottom line. Behind The Evil Mind isn’t one of those albums destined to become a classic, or maybe even be remembered very far into the future. But here and now, it’s a fun album to spin, with the odd detail here and there that keeps things amusing. Creepy ‘n’ Pervy for example very deftly borrows a bit of melody from Peaches by The Stranglers, always making me smile with childish delight. Gospel Of A Sleazebag is a fun psychobilly take on upbeat country gospel. The already mentioned track about Pat Winn, which I call Big Pat Winn based on how the chorus goes, is a fun wink of the eye.

In a genre that sometimes feels like it’s becoming worryingly gray-haired and geriatric, one wishes for an infusion of young, fresh acts and fans to keep the flame alive. But it’s always welcome, too, when the old farts put out an album showing there’s life left in them as well. And that’s just what Behind The Evil Mind is: not the greatest album of all time, but nonetheless a fun psychobilly romp showing Stage Frite are not out for the count just yet.

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