Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s long-running Psychic TV collective indulges and tweaks its classicist tendencies with their latest report from drilling into the substrate of consciousness, Alienist (Angry Love Productions). Performing covers for half of the four-track record, PTV builds its version of Harry Nilsson’s early ’70s hit “Jump Into the Fire” around John Weingarten’s rock-solid piano and Edley O’Dowd’s snare and shakers, simultaneously conjuring ’60s R&B and classic house. The subtlety of the arrangement highlights a sensuality buried in the original’s stomp-and-grind. P-Orridge’s vocal finds new nuances here in the breakdown midway through the track. He spits out the chorus of “I can break you down” with flattened effect as the other instruments shudder behind. That stopping leaves room for “We can make each other happy” to rise, starting with barely a whisper. That line slips into a dreamy refrain of “happy… happy… happy,” like P-Orridge is turning the word, the very concept, over like tumbling a precious stone to restore a luster that’s always just a little out of reach. As the band surges back to life, the catharsis feels well-earned, bathed in acidic guitar and howled backing vocals.
The other look back at the hit parade, “How Does It Feel to Feel,” made famous by The Creation, is a gleeful showcase for Jeff “Bunsen” Burner’s guitar. P-Orridge’s vocals are planted solidly in classic glam-rock territory as the rhythm section of Alice Genese and O’Dowd lean into the garage groove behind Weingarten’s wheezing, surging organ. It’s a joyous, brief palate cleanser amidst longer tracks like the closing eponymous cut. On “Alienist,” P-Orridge’s character mutters, “Alienist, psychologist, inside my head, inside my brain” over and over again, coming back to, “It would be easier to shake it off, to break it up.” The song features a bassline by Genese that bores into the listener’s head over its nine-minute length. A heartbreaking vocal matches the impotent fury inside the heartbeat of the song, “Did you ever feel evil and alien? Get angry, dismayed, and weary, and teary? Begging?” P-Orridge asks before closing with “You’re not alone, for all our lonely…” leaving the thought to hang in the air.
Alienist is imbued with the understanding of the impossibility of really knowing another person, but it’s the human drive to try and try again to do just that which animates the record. It’s nonetheless a mixed bag, but with moments that make it essential listening for these cold days, when sometimes just the acknowledgment that there aren’t any easy answers makes us feel heard.