Cardiacs’ Influence Discussed + Covered by Napalm Death, Porcupine Tree, Voivod
Today came the devastating news that Cardiacs frontman Tim Smith passed away at age 59 following years battling a serious health condition that was "complex and poorly understood." Cardiacs influenced so many bands, including Faith No More, Tool, Porcupine Tree, Voivod, and Napalm Death.
Napalm Death released a cover of Cardiacs' "To Go Off and Things" on a 2014 split with Melvins, and in 2018 bassist Shane Embury said, "The band Cardiacs Have been one of my favourite bands of all time and their mind bending song structures an influence I have interpreted in my own way sometimes when composing my own songs."
Shane also added, "The man behind cardiacs Tim Smith is in my opinion a musical genius."
Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson also covered a Cardiacs song, "Stoneage Dinoaurs," for the 2010 tribute album Leader of the Starry Skies: A Tribute to Tim Smith, Songbook 1. That same year, Steven spoke to the BBC about Cardiacs:
I think anybody who likes Cardiacs, they tend to be quite evangelistic about them for obvious reasons . They're not a band you can be on the fence about. When you meet someone who likes them they do tend to be very evangelistic as I am now. I count myself as one of those people.
I left school and I went to work in a computer company. I was in my late teens. I made friends with a chap who was a huge Cardiacs fan and he gave me some cassettes because that's all they had out at that time - we're talking mid to late 80s here, I'm still very young - and I grew up really loving progressive rock. I wasn't very interested in punk music or hardcore music so I was initially sceptical but I did listen to the music and I was blown away because it had all the things I liked about the music I had grown up with, you know - great musicianship, complex compositions, very literate music, kind of semi-surreal lyrics. But it had this energy that I recognised from punk and hardcore music so it kind of was kind of like a bridge for me to that kind of music for the first time.
[...] I think most people tend to come up with the same kind of description and they kind of call it pop prog/punk or punk progressive. There's also a very quintessentially English quality about the music that you can almost relate back to bands like Madness, that almost Music Hall tradition and that's kind of tied up in there too. It's a very bizarre combination that I think can only have come out of England. If you had to boil it down, it's a fusion of the energy of punk music with the complexity and musical sophistication of progressive rock.
On the difficult task of covering Cardiacs' music, Steven added, "I think in a way it's easy to love the music but it's much harder to imitate and I think that's why perhaps the legacy of Cardiacs isn't as strong as it otherwise might be simply because it's very, very hard to imitate music of such sophistication and complexity. It's genius." Read the rest of Steven Wilson's BBC interview here.
In 2018, Voivod's Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain said to Kerrang, "I discovered Cardiacs a few years back through a friend in London. I was blown away by the uniqueness of their sound, composition and vibe. I always appreciate music that surprises me and with Cardiacs I was served with that for sure. [...] Also, Shane from Napalm Death is a big fan and friend of Tim. We talked a lot about Cardiacs when we toured together a few years back." Chewy released a guitar cover of Cardiacs' "Jibber And Twitch" earlier this year.
Travis of False spoke to Echoes and Dust about Cardiacs in 2019:
was first introduced to Cardiacs through a good friend after playing together in a Devo cover band. He described them as a more musically intense Devo with more prog influence, so I had to check them out. After watching their music video for ‘R.E.S.’ (1984) and a live shed performance of ‘As Cold as Can Be in an English Sea’ (2007), I immediately realised this band was the real deal. They aren’t easy to listen to and aren’t for everybody, but once I digested more of these intensely entertaining songs on YouTube I had to dive in to their studio albums. England’s Cardiacs put out 9 studio albums, all on their own record label “Alphabet Business Concern”, and A Little Man and a House… (1988) drew me in instantly. The musicality in this album is completely over the top, weird time signature phrases played effortlessly and effectively, never sounding out of place or forced, riffs that speed up and slow down, anxious chord progressions that seem to never end (‘The Breakfast Line’ from 2:21 to the end of the track, as an example), just non-stop unbelievable musicianship and songwriting throughout. I personally have used hemiolas many times in my drum parts, something I first noticed in Cardiacs. 6 members all playing highly organised parts that through repeated listens leads you to discover things within each individual performance that you missed the first 10 times. A total Dadaist album. I could go on and on about this record, and I encourage anyone that enjoys difficult music to check out Cardiacs. Start from the beginning and take it all in. Also they were consistently critically panned by critics and hated by many, so you know they did something right.
Listen to the Napalm Death, Steven Wilson, and Chewy covers below...