The presence below of a few as yet commercially unsuccessful records should not be construed as fashionable dissatisfaction with what’s now on the radio (much of which—Backstreet Boys’ “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely,” Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl,” Dr. Dre featuring Eminem’s “Forgot About Dre,” M2M’s “Don’t Say You Love Me,” Third Eye Blind’s “Never Let You Go”—can hold its own against most anything here). The fact that, despite the thematic bent of the first few songs, this column is not written as a Dan Savage homage should, however, be construed as me chickening out.
Snake River Conspiracy: “Vulcan”
A suburban s&m theme park set to wax, kinky in a really cute way. SRC’s Burbank bubblegum-industrial finds tuneage in noisy guitars and aggressive synths, thus splitting the difference between Garbage and Stabbing Westward with an exuberance supposed subgenre standard-bearer Trent Reznor could never muster—”Vulcan” is recited in an early-’80s Valley girl new-wave voice, and the album it’s on has Smiths and Depeche Mode covers. Nobody audibly utters “vulcan” anywhere in the lyrics, but a different word keeps recurring, chirped first, then screamed: “Fuck life!” “You fucking faggot!” “You could talk me into fucking you!” “Make me wanna strangle you . . . make me wanna fuuuuuck!” Like an animal, no doubt.
The Bloodhound Gang: “The Bad Touch”
You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals, so let’s do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel”: a smokin’ boys’ room joke obsessed with romantic taxonomy, and at a more evolved level than Motörhead’s “Love Me Like a Reptile” (not to mention Paul Simon’s “Love Me Like a Rock”). It supplants Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “I Feel Lucky” as the best-song-ever-to-namedrop-Lyle Lovett. And, according to my daughter, Coco, it’s one of the big-three funniest pop hits to sing out loud in fifth grade right now, the others being Sisqó’s “Thong Song” and, um, “I Try” by Macy Gray (imitated in a froggy voice, natch). The Bloodhound Gang hail from Philadelphia, long a sophomoric cream-cheese hotbed (Dead Milkmen, Ween, Atom and his Package); their eulogies bypass Biggie and Tupac for Falco. Their lone previous great record was “Mama Say” five years back, which sampled Duran Duran and quoted “Soul Makossa” (via “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”) and made Chili Pepper/House of Pain-dialect shoutouts to Judy Blume, Don Pardo, Sherman Potter, Mr. Hooper, and Punky Brewster. The rhythm in “Bad Touch,” their long-dreaded pop breakthrough, comes from an over-the-top-NRG species of ‘80s synth-pop that, in its Dead Or Alive and Frankie Goes To Hollywood modes, was almost inevitably deviant-identified; the rap phrasing can be traced through the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” (where I now assume “they were all in love with dyin’, they were doin’ it in Texas” like they do it on the Discovery Channel) to the Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women.” Which was almost this pervy: The Bloodhounds “do the kind of stuff that only Prince would sing about,” they “rise an hour early like daylight savings time,” they sink their battleship in her South Seas and capsize on her thighs and come quicker than FedEx and do it doggy-style so they can both watch X-Files. Which is on Fox.
La Rissa: “I Do Both Jay & Jane”
Not quite a thing only Prince would sing about, but close—the CD sleeve’s purple male and female symbols are clues, as are the gratuitously programmed “Purple Rain” guitar in the “rock dance mix” and the vocal pitch harking back to Sheila E. (if not to Ready for the World lusting over her in “Oh Sheila”). The Miami-mixed-and-mastered beats tinkle somewhere between generic Latin freestyle and generic diva house, no big whoop. But the lyric bats from both sides of the plate as blatantly as any ever to score in Billboard. Jay and Jane make her feel the same, La Rissa says. But does she do them like they do them on the Discovery Channel?
Razor-n-Guido: “Do It Again”/“Don’t Look Behind ‘U’”/“Men Beat Their Men”
This entire record (at 65:37, conceivably the longest ever self-billed as an “EP”) is about repetition. First song, reportedly ubiquitous in Night at the Roxbury-type clubs for months now, uses irregular heart-murmur thumping and a martial horn hook of about nine notes to surround a low-voiced Lord of Flatbush, octave-multiplied, ominously commanding, “Do it again!!” (like they do it on whatever cable network he wants, you suspect) again and again and again—for 10 minutes in one mix. Hypnotic-tranced Bensonhurst club-dub of an unprecedentedly butch bent: Is there a name for this kinda stuff? Second song, slowly-I-turned-step-by-step deeesco running 10:26 in its shortest version, has Gothic funeral bells surrounding words about “the evil that lurks in the heart of another man.“ Which evil really surfaces in the third song. Long, slow, deep: Iron John‘s pounding on carnivore skins in the woods, his teeth are gritting tough, he‘s shooting off space-effect bottle rockets and cracking a bullwhip till you beg, “Thank you sir, may I have another?” The more recent answer-or-ripoff, “Women Beat Their Men” by French house-hack Junior Cartier, sounds lazy and blank in comparison. I guess men beat their men harder.
El Captain Funkaho: “My 2600″/“Evil Goat Interlude”/“Space Slut”/“Bootay”
Another six-feet-deep bassman mouth harking back to early Funkadelic, which is where Chicago acid-house weirdo Bam Bam seemed to get the voice he used in his scary 1988 “Where’s Your Child?”—the grumbling Razor-n-Guido’s most recalls. But mostly this vinyl seven-inch (from an alter ego of undie-hip-hopper Peanut Butter Wolf) walks a line only Jimmy Castor ever trod before: Big Bertha butts and Billy Squier big beats and Black Sabbath guitars as osmium as the basslines, free-jazz blowing and Atari beeps and odes to Pac-Man fever, backward masking and an obsession with Satanic hooved mammals. All of which exist at extremes—as heavy and geeky as funk ever gets, both at the same time.
2Gether: “U + Me = Us (Calculus)”
Tracks two through five on the 2Ge+her soundtrack (a treatise on math, masturbation, salivating groupies, getting lucky with your ex, and big fat books in Hebrew) add up to every bit as “eclectic” a four-song sequence as El Captain Funkaho’s EP, yet one put together with such logarithmically calculated seamlessness that the eclecticism never calls attention to itself. The model for “U + Me = Us” is “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls: rocking rap part, fistpumping oi! oi! oi! gang shouts, mushy parts, robot interjections, call-and-response climax. The last time an airwave hit this good mentioned algebra and trigonometry by name was “Wonderful World” four decades ago by Sam Cooke, who never got around to studying cosines (much less not giving “a crap about Robert E. Lee”). And 2Gether’s true predecessors, Spinal Tap and the Rutles, were neither this musically adept nor this uproarious: “I’m losing my hair/And my vision is shady/Last night I dreamt of an overweight lady/But I need a young thing to keep up with my pace/to hold me in her arms and take me straight to second base,” crooned with such heartmelting sweetness that, if you’re not paying close attention, you’ll mistake it for merely the catchiest Backstreet or ‘N Sync ditty of the millennium.
Phil Vassar: “Carlene”
First line says Phil “was lousy at math,” just like Sylvia Plath in the old Peter Laughner ballad; maybe 2Gether should’ve tutored them. Or maybe Carlene should’ve, since when Phil was quarterbacking she was valedictorian—though, oddly, not the most popular valedictorian in the country countdown right now: That’d be the starlet of Toby Keith’s chart-toppingly achy-breaky-testosteroned “How Do You Like Me Now?!” The title of which would maybe fit the coincidentally women’s-college-surnamed Vassar’s hit more, since here it’s class reunion time in the old school yard, and you’re wanting him to tell “little miss 4.0,” now a redheaded Vogue cover girl in a blue sports car, that he’s a hired killer (see Grosse Point Blank) who invented Post-it notes (see Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion), or at least that he’s flying in his taxi taking tips and getting stoned (see Harry Chapin). But all he can say is he writes songs in Nashville—before his newest Muscle Shoals-lilted shrimp boat, the best one he penned was “I’m Alright” in 1998 for Bostonbilly Jo Dee Messina. Which, like “Carlene” itself, owes its stuttering hook to Slade’s lousy-at-spelling “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.”
3 Doors Down: “Kryptonite”
Modern country still doesn’t boogie hard enough to get Sweet Home Alabama krunk; David Allen Coe just decided to remake Kid Rock’s astounding “Only God Knows Why” (Al Green baptism- ending and all), which rambles more transcendently than any Southern rock ballad on the FM since Marshall Tucker’s 1977 “Heard It in a Love Song,” and Kid’s a dadburn Yankee. The Confederacy’s real rock sound now is an intricate, usually secretly Christian-themed prog-grunge: Collective Soul, Creed, the beautifully weird Days of the New, and now suburban Biloxi’s almost-as-intriguing 3 Doors Down, all four members of whom “thank God” first in their liner note lists. So “Kryptonite” ‘s hero is probably Jesus Christ Superman, but what took it to the AOR-chart zenith was its undulating opening twang (think “House of the Rising Sun”—or “Suicide Is Painless” from M*A*S*H—as done by Ennio Morricone) and the confidently muscular drawl of it all. The words keep mentioning the dark side of the moon, and the music’s dark for sure, but the angular chug is thankfully more Golden Earring than Pink Floyd. It’s half past four, and they’re shifting gear.
95 South: “Tightwork (Dat’s Dat Sshhh)”
Their whoots-where-it-was long since replaced by bling-bling and Aqueminis except at sports events, interstate fans 95 South drive Cadillac Broughams and Coupe de Villes through whole bowlegged hush-yo-mouth generations of mostly sub-Mason-Dixon funk—they switch voices almost every line (real old school), and the yells might as well be marching cadences at Fort Bragg. Their “work! work! work!” chant is the sound of men on Sam Cooke’s chain gang, or at least Rose Royce’s car wash, and the guy “running down the tracks” is riding the underground railroad as much as the midnight train to Georgia. The even more lawdy-lawd-drawled “Radio Edit” sounds like an entirely different song: car-horn percussion breaks like a traffic jam of arm-branded Omegas and Alphas impatient to get to the Freaknik frat-bash in Miami (where else could you refer to “up in Jacksonville”?); a girl-in-blue-whatcha-gonna-do working her thang like on Soul Train. Hip-hop gets no more downhome than this.
Non Phixion: “Black Helicopters”/“They Got . . .”
Or less downhome than this. Absolute paranoia, perhaps even an intentional parody of paranoia: Middle Eastern cheese organs wiggle a repeated belly-dance riff through two guys rapping about alien vegetation, mind alteration, exiting star gates, opening up third eyes (blind?), Arizona extraterrestrials, renegade assassin androids, and some never-specified “they” inventing AIDS in a laboratory in 1975 and forcing us to “sell dope as a way to self-esteem.” All told, a killing-technology state-of-the-conspiracy address so quantum that Matador Records hired Montreal physics-metal drummer Away to help Non Phixion do the cover artwork: Voivod-style, so they can both watch X-Files.
Village Voice, 2 May 2000