Monday, June 9, 2014

CD Odyssey Disc 626: The Dead Milkmen

My apologies gentle readers, for the delay between this post and my last. I took a week off work and really went to ground. I’m feeling recharged as a result and ready to take on the world.

When I’m done here I’m going out for dinner with a friend who is visiting from out of town – it is like an extension of my holiday!

Disc 626 is…. Bucky Fellini
Artist: The Dead Milkmen

Year of Release: 1987

What’s up with the Cover? The art projects of children, or so we are led to believe. The drawing on the lower left is apparently by ‘Bucky Fellini’ himself, who at age 8 apparently dreamed of stabbing his math teacher. I also hated math, but my last math teacher – Mr. Drage – was actually a pretty cool dude. Hate the math, not the man Bucky Fellini!

How I Came To Know It:  My friend Tony told me about these guys one summer way back in the late eighties when we were working a summer job together. They had a song (“Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance To Anything)” where the Dead Milkmen made fun of club goers. I was intrigued and about three years later I was thinking about the song for some reason and went looking for it. I bought this album on limited knowledge, entirely because it had that song.

Coincidentally, Tony is the out of town friend I’m going for dinner with tonight. Synchronicity!

How It Stacks Up:  The Dead Milkmen have nine studio albums, but I’ve only got this one. I keep meaning to buy a couple more, but never get around to it.

Rating:  3 stars

“Bucky Fellini” is not just surfer punk – it is surfer punk with a Dadaist edge, and that isn’t easy to pull off. The Dead Milkmen sound like a cross between Dick Dale and the Dead Kennedys, with a dash of Weird Al Yankovic thrown in for good measure. Strangely, the whole thing works.

I wasn’t terribly into punk when I bought this record in the early nineties, but fortunately “Bucky Fellini” isn’t terribly hard core as punk goes. It has the basic song construction of punk music, with a couple of chords played angry, and like a lot of punk the band is very talented, despite their efforts to cloak that with reckless playing, but there are melodies buried in there that are quite engaging.

In particular, I love bass player Dave “Blood” Schulthise, who drops some very funky bass riffs into the music. In doing some minimal research about the album I found out Schulthise committed suicide in 2004 at the age of 47. Despite an early end, his work on this album lives on, and I really appreciated his skills on multiple tracks.

The vocal duties are shared by Joe “Jack Talcum” Genaro and Rodney “Anonymous” Linderman. I can’t tell them apart and have no idea who sings on which tracks. However, they have classic punk voices that deliberately avoid holding a pretty note in favour of singing with gusto and energy. They’ll never win a singing contest, but in the context of the music, it works perfectly.

The lyrics overshadow this album, simply because they are so fun and wickedly irreverent. They are not for easily offended. “Take Me To The Specialist” pokes fun at mental illness, at one point degenerating into someone shouting “I hear weasels!” over and over again. It is strangely delightful experience.

Watching Scotty Die” pokes fun at someone being poisoned by a chemical plant next door to their house:

“I know a kid whose name is Scott
He’s going blind and his blood just will not clot.”

Both these songs are fun if you don’t think too hard about what they are about, and if you do, then the experience is that much richer, because it will then make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin (or in Scotty’s, which later in the song turns lime green).

If all of that feels a bit heavy, there are Dadaist forays into crazy parties (“(Theme From) Blood Orgy of the Atomic Fern”) and car worship (“Nitro Burning Funny Cars”) that are less socially divisive – although the Milkmen try hard to make them as inappropriate as possible.

Even twenty five years and scores of listens later, though, none are as fun as my first love on the record, “Instant Club Hit,” an indictment of all those people who go clubbing and think they’re cooler than anyone else there with zingers like “80 pounds of makeup on your art school skin/80 points of IQ located within.”

Later, the Milkmen take aim at a laundry list of bands they don’t think much of, including the Communards, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, and Public Image Limited at one point ending in a shriek of “Choke on this you dance-a-teri types” and then playing a completely un-danceable cacophony of sound.

I used to always request “Instant Club Hit” in my own clubbing days because until they reach the aforementioned “choke point” it is actually quite danceable. The boys draw you in before pulling the rug out from under you – at which point you can pretty much slam dance, stand confused or just wander off the floor. I think I even convinced a DJ to do it once or twice, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

As if to remind us they are more than humorists, the Dead Milkmen give us “Surfin’ Cow” near the end of the album. A mostly instrumental masterpiece, with guitarist Genaro channeling Dick Dale in some powerful and soulful licks, this song reminds you that when they’re not mocking the pale, wan and disadvantaged they can also play pretty damned well.

Best tracks: Take Me to the Specialist, Watching Scotty Die, Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything), Surfin’ Cow, (Theme From) Blood Orgy of the Atomic Fern, Jellyfish Heaven

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