NURSE WITH WOUND Livin’ Fear Of James Last (Castle Music/Sanctuary)

Nurse With Wound has, for almost thirty years, been the outlet for the ‘musical talents’ of Londoner Steven Stapleton. Often described as industrial, to the artist’s chagrin, Nurse With Wound deal in dada, surrealism and dark humour (check the album title, for example). Yes, there’s a lot of clanking in there as well, which explains the industrial mistagging, but theirs is not the kind of sound you’d be likely to mistake for Nine Inch Nails.

This double CD not-a-compilation – the cover playfully refers to it as “a Nurse With Wound variety pack” - opens with an edited version of “The Six Buttons Of Sex Appeal”, originally found on their 1979 debut album “Chance Meeting On A Dissecting Table Of A Sewing Machine And An Umbrella”, recorded after Stapleton blagged some studio time after mentioning to a studio engineer frustrated by constant advertising and voice-over work that he was a member of an experimental band. Being at the time not a member of an experimental band but a signwriter, Stapleton hurriedly formed Nurse With Wound by telling a couple of friends to get hold of some kind of instruments, with which they made a noise akin to atonal shards of guitar noise being brutalised by broken, steam-powered rhythms. “Dirty Fingernails” is (appropriately enough) a nails-on-blackboard aural assault, like almost half the songs here presented in an edited form. (Edited for what, I wonder? Certainly not radio play.) “Stick That Chick And Feel My Steel Through Your Last Meal” is the kind of oppressive sound collage that might’ve taken up 30 seconds of a Mothers Of Invention album, here stretched out over an eternity. Speaking of which, “Subterranean Zappa Blues” is so obviously a cover of that band’s “Trouble Every Day” I’d feel like an accessory if I didn’t complain that it’s not credited to Frank Zappa. (Note also how that song is extracted from an album with the Beefheart-referencing title “Man With The Woman Face”.) “Die, Flip Or Go To India” is distorted, warped Eno ambience, rendered prickly, paranoid and sinister; “Cold” sounds like a duet for burglar alarm and jackhammer. “The Strange Play Of The Mouth” spikes its sample soup with what sounds like a mutation of Julie Andrews singing “My Favourite Things”, whilst “Swansong” is mostly rolling breakers of white noise.

Slyly, the compilation’s less accessible moments seem to be crowded on the first disc, perhaps in a deliberate attempt to scare off the less committed listener. By comparison, the second CD is a gentle downhill amble. The rambling storytelling of “A New Dress” is a bizarre highlight and the likes of “Two Shaves And A Shine” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Station” are perhaps about as close to commercial – i.e. not very – as the album passes, being a slab of babbled, Chumbawamba-esque paranoia and a sparse, beaty cut-up recitative respectively. The closing remix of “I Was No Longer His Dominant” is strongly reminiscent of John Cale’s “The Jeweller” in presentation – a drone-backed narrative – if not in plot.

Not quite as scary as I might’ve anticipated, “Livin’ Fear Of James Last” will have definite appeal for a certain kind of record buyer: if your idea of a restful evening in is one spent spinning albums by Eno, Beefheart and Zappa, taking breaks in between to stick your head in a cement mixer, Nurse With Wound are the band for you.