THE BUTTERTONES: “MADAME SUPREME”
“Madame Supreme” 7″
1978 was a year of shock and terror, rocked by serial killers, widespread nuclear tests and the Jonestown massacre. Some reacted by retreating to more innocent times: ahem, the movie Grease. Others sought chemical solace, popping a record 2.3 billion Valium pills that year. And the Walker Brothers—Californians who moved to England during the British Invasion and topped the charts with inspired pop music for depressives—looked out at the stormy sea of disco and punk and delved deeper and darker still. Screaming hordes of girls had long ago ceased chasing the Walkers after a lock of their shining hair, and Scott’s now-cult classic solo albums and the band’s softer 70s forays both failed to make an impact. “In those days I had to keep my act clean,” Scott Walker told NME. “Now I can be as dirty as I want to be.” That year the Walker Brothers put out what would be their final album together—Nite Flights, their bleakest and most experimental work. (Only Scott would continue down that shadowy path.) Now the dashing dirty-as-they-want-to-be Buttertones—like their beloved Walker Brothers—whip their fans into a frenzy, inciting near-riots at their concerts with their unlikely amalgam of 50s rock ‘n’ surf ‘n’ Italian library music. “Madame Supreme”, their new single’s A-side, is anxiety at velocity, with doomsday imagery of mushroom clouds and a call to “light all the candles and chant” over syncopated off-beat guitar strumming and maniacal saxophone. Their cover of Nite Flight‘s opening track “Shut Out” runs faster than the original, leans into the whammy bar, replaces the unhinged guitar solo with an unhinged sax solo and scrubs away any lingering disco influences, leaving a polished and reverent—even haunting—ode to their dark overlord Scott. Richard Araiza deploys a commanding Scott-worthy baritone that makes every word (“Something attacked the earth last night…”) hang, gleaming, in the air for you to admire, like Rudolf Nureyev mid-jump. Forty years after Nite Flights, the world feels even more desperate and dangerous—but a song like “Shut Out” reignites the power of art to be a light in the darkness, even when it feels like the sun isn’t going to shine anymore.