Let’s say you’re skeptical when you flip through the liner notes and read quote after quote, all from reputable rock publications, praising Cyborgs Revisited as nothing less than “the greatest Canadian rock album ever.” And sure, they overreacted, but you understand, because this is everything a cult album should be: the only trace of a lost band that was so exciting, but so obscure it’s a wonder there’s anything to remember them by at all.
This album first came out in 1989, a full decade after Simply Saucer had broken up. Flipping through the small booklet, you can read countless anecdotes of rock band purgatory: gigs that almost sparked riots, others that did nothing at all, rough demos, stolen gear, and of course, continuous line-up changes. In spite of it all, the band kept experimenting– like the time they cranked up the feedback in their Hamilton, Ontario rehearsal space, and went outside to see if they could hear it (they could), locking themselves out in the process. The local firemen who had to let the band back inside described it as “the loudest sound heard in these parts since World War II.”
Here’s a band that could splice the DNA of Syd Barrett and Soft Machine with Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground, that could bridge post-psychedelic mind-altering electronics with a buzzed proto-punk urgency: the ultimate garage band, rehearsing constantly and trying everything and doing it all at top fucking volume. And right after they finally got around to issuing their debut release, a well-received seven-inch, in 1978, the band split and became history.
The saga, however, was just getting underway. Longtime Saucer fan Bruce “Mole” Mowat uncovered enough of the band’s material in the late 1980s to assemble an actual posthumous full-length album. A one-single cult band that could have been consigned to Nuggets III: Original Artyfacts from the Northern Territories and Beyond instead captured their own spotlight. Mowat culled nine songs from a forgotten studio session and a free afternoon show at a shopping center, and crazily, they’re all so fantastic that you can properly call them a legacy.
The studio cuts come from a 1974 session recorded by Bob Lanois in his and brother Daniel’s basement studio (the live set was recorded a year later). We’ll never know what the band’s original epic setpieces sounded like, but apparently, by this point, frontman and main songwriter Edgar Breau was cutting the material down into more concise songs (if jarring and very eccentric ones)– it’s all the fury of the band’s live sprawl crammed into the most condensed possible space. These sessions are explosive, with Breau playing the space-rock guitar hero while Ping Romany works out on Moog synth and some other analog electronics. The three live tracks, meanwhile, see the band stretching out: drums and bass gallop through on “Illegal Bodies”, setting up a noisy busy-circuit solo from Romany that sets the stage for Breau’s most precise, shrieking guitar attack. Even at a free show on a Saturday afternoon you can tell these guys were an absolutely crushing entity in the flesh.
But jams and noise-rock don’t always ossify well onto vinyl. Which brings us back to the songs: a whole set of garage rock classics that are both ecstatic and bluntly riff-bound. Breau wrote lyrics that were strikingly direct– from “Instant Pleasure”‘s demand for carnal reward, to “Nazi Apocalypse”‘s crass punk humor, to “Bullet Proof Nothing”, which just keeps demanding, “Treat me like dirt.” And though Breau’s voice, while strong and clear, has no actual remarkable qualities (I’m saying he’d never stand out in a garage-rocker line-up), it’s the perfect counterbalance to the music, grounding Simply Saucer’s instrumental flights and Romany’s “third ear” electronics.
Sonic Unyon’s reissue collects the 1989 album, and also tacks on a half hour of rehearsal and live tapes. The later material (dating from ’77 and ’78) has the band arcing away from psychedelia and closer to proto-punk; Ping Romany has quit and Steve Parks has joined the band on second guitar. The bonus tracks sound rough but they include some gems, like the bluesy “Low Profile” demo or the album’s only ballad, the affecting “Yes I Do”. Sonic Unyon also included the first CD issue of the band’s single, “I Can Change My Mind”, along with its flipside, “She’s a Dog”. The single deservedly made waves in its day, landing them a touring slot with Pere Ubu, but the band sounds diminished on it: the songs are jagged, semi-chaotic shards of sneer-punk with lyrics that snarl but that never hinge off the groin like the band’s earlier work.
It shouldn’t have ended there– the band were slated to record an official full-length before they disbanded– though it is hard to imagine how this band could have improved on Cyborgs Revisited; “I Can Change My Mind” and “She’s a Dog”, in particular, seem like formal grade school portraits after all the candid craziness that came before them. With all their ideas and influences it’s unbelievable that we could catch them at a point of such balance, but that might have been because they didn’t freeze up to perfect it. Simply Saucer made their defining statement without even knowing it. How can you beat that?
-Chris Dahlen, pitchfork.com
Simply Saucer-CYBORGS REVISITED (1989 compilation)