Ladies and gentlemen I ask you, where would we be without the old woman-as-motorbike metaphor? Let’s check out the similarities, umm, they’re both covered in chrome? nope; you can take them both to shows to be stripped down and admired by other heavily bearded men? nope; you can sit on them both? technically yes, but let’s say nope on that score too; they’re both fast? sometimes, okay we’ll allow that one. As I have therefore scientifically proven women are nothing like bikes. Circus of Power would disagree.
She got a sweet funky power train
Rear end drive make this boy insane
She’s ripping out that sweet horse power
She took me up to 90 miles an hour
When you put your heel to the floor
I wanna blow more than just your doors
That’s alright, baby, we need some action
We got the rubber, baby, we got the traction
Oh yes! and that’s just some edited highlights. I really liked Circus of Power when I picked it up in Backstreet Records in Carmarthen*, pretty much at random. Unlike a fair number of my random rock purchases at the time this was one that stuck, although I’ve never met anyone else who liked them / knew of them outside those metallers I may have taped this for back in the day. I have fond memories of driving around at night in various people’s cars listening to this album.
Circus of Power got lumped in with the a whole sleaze rock thing, but even a cursory glance at the inner sleeve shows you this was a mistake. Check them out next to their bikes, you get the sense they aren’t just using them as props. They thank their tattooists, all six of them. They also thank Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop, Raging Slab and the Cycle Sluts From Hell**. These are genuinely scuzzy dudes, not just some hair trying to make a quick buck – which as hindsight tells us, was probably just as well.
Opening track, ‘Motor’ is the big throbbing metaphor bearer and a good way to open Circus of Power, nice and steady. No flying out the traps like a dragster, this is far more like a phalanx of ‘angels cruising the highway, travelling well within themselves, just enjoying the ride. next up they change gear into … the worst track on the album, ‘White Trash Queen’ is a bit of Southern rock inflected nonsense – the sort of thing they went on to do really well on their second LP, Vices. Circus of Power’s default sound is a slower chugging boogie, with a slight punky tinge, which accelerates into the choruses like a ____ bike^ locking onto a straight. Vocalist Alex Mitchell has something of Ian Astbury about him, which was a pleasant change from all the shriekers who were his contemporaries. The rest of the band are good, without being spectacular I can barely remember a guitar solo here; I also hope that bassist Gary Sunshine is using his real name, I think that’s way cool.
Circus of Power doesn’t/don’t uproot any trees here, this is no solid gold lost rock classic, but it is a pretty good album by a band who have been unfairly forgotten today. The biggest weakness is the song writing, which got better on their next album, but there are a couple of instances of autopilot-rock on Side 2, but there are some real highlights on Circus of Power as well. I really like the widescreen epicness of ‘Call of the Wild’ as it lurches from verse into chorus, it’s a great riff and the lyrics have some great Cult-like nonsense-isms about Gods and eagles, ‘children of the velvet light’ and gets 1537 bonus points for rhyming ‘electric ages’ with ‘Gods, fools and sages’; stick this on the afore-mentioned Cult Sonic Temple and everyone would have swooned over it.
Likewise ‘Needles’ is a great drugs-are-bad song, complete with a really nice piano intro and a sense of proper menace and ‘Machine’ is also a bit more sinister. But pride of place for me goes to ‘In the Wind’, the fastest track on the LP, which has a true drunken romantic core, again without being indiscreet it’s a song with happy nocturnal memories for me. It flips neatly from a spoken (SPOKEN!) fantasy section about crimson soldiers and metal dragons^^ back to reality and,
Down in the valley with a Cajun moon
I decided that’s when I wanna marry you
You gave me wine, I gave you flowers
The rain fell down for fourteen hours
So effectively the song flips from Bukowski, to Castaneda and then back to Bukowski. I really liked it then and I still like it today. But you’re not here for my personal reminiscences are you? you’re here for more woman-as-bike sex/motor metaphors! Fear not reader, last track, ‘Backseat Mama’ has got loads to spare.
Won’t you shove a little closer, slip into gear
Easy on the clutch if you know what I mean, dear
Now we’re kickin’ ass
Got my sights set down your road
Well, I can feel it gettin’ heavy
Pretty soon I’m gonna blow that load
Injecting some fuel into your hips
Fill it up baby you can keep the tip
Goodness! What could it all mean? as it was late 1988, I can only imagine that it’s a reference to Bush Sr. beating Michael Dukakis in that year’s presidential election and his particularly marked victory in the electoral college that year. No, it’s true!
Circus of Power does have one curio, the track ‘Crazy’ (sample lyric: ‘She ripped me and raped me in the strangest romance / I felt so good I had to drown in my pants’^*) is an Iggy Pop track, but I can’t trace the original at all. Was it donated to Circus of Power by Mr Pop, I wonder?
*on 14 November 1989 (or so my sticker tells me), that’s like frickin’ YEARS AGO – I’m OLD !!
**anybody else remember ‘I Wish You Were a Beer’? or that one of their singers was called Venus Penis-crusher? (sighs).
^insert name of some kind of really fast bike there. I’m not manly enough to know any.
^^Metal dragons would just rock so much harder than, say, stone or wooden ones. In fact I’m struggling to think of any fantasy beast that would be more metal, than a metal dragon – even an iron man would pall before that.
^*where do you even start with that?!