I’ve been feeling kinda “feh” about most newish musical things that have crossed my desk over the past few months (the last record that had really thrilled me was Worlds Apart, the latest from And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead), but that trend has ended with an awesome wallop over the past few days as three titanic records in a row have hit my trembling ear holes . . .
You’ll Rebel to Anything by Mindless Self Indulgence: I went on record in print several years ago citing these guys as the future of rock and roll, and I stand by that position to this day. (See my interview with MSI singer Little Jimmy Urine in the sidebar to the left, or check out my live review of them from the Metroland archives here for some additional back story and perspective).
MSI are custom-made to be an object around which teenage rebellion can swirl . . . their looks, sound and lyrics are pretty well guaranteed to make even the most liberal-minded parents cringe the first time they encounter the band. But the quality of the music MSI offers kids to rebel to is simply amazing, a high-speed blender of programmed beats, samples, a live power trio and Jimmy Urine’s octave-jumping vocal psycho-pyro-technics. If your kids are going to rebel (or, rather, when your kids rebel), they might as well do it something of quality, not some bland pre-chewed musical food.
On this latest disc, MSI move away from some of the poo-poo-pee-pee offensiveness of their earlier discs and direct their crank-styled lyrical hostility at the sorts of lemming-like kids who rush off cliffs whenever the hip travelling roadshow of the day pulls into town. Even if that hip travelling roadshow happens to be the one headed by MSI themselves. Which is subtle and sublime on some plane, as most rebellion-friendly bands create “us vs. them” worlds in which band and kids are the “us” and parents and other authority figures are “them”. Not so in the MSI universe: see their live album, Alienating Our Audience, for proof.
Of course, alienating or insulting your audience is nothing new, but it’s something not often done well or with much imagination. No worries on that front here, though, as the lyrics of You’ll Rebel to Anything are pointedly accurate, insightful and spot-on honest, and designed (I think) not really to make the kids feel stupid or bad about themselves, but just to make the kids think about whether what they’re doing is stupid or not, or original or not, or really even rebellious or not.
Here’s how it works, in all of its multi-layered subversiveness: if you’re a kid rebelling against your parents by going to an MSI concert, you’re going to spend ninety minutes listening to the band tell you that you’re a stupid automaton for rebelling in a room with hundreds of other kids who are rebelling just like you are, and in all the same reasonably unimaginative ways that you are as well . . . but, then, when the show’s all said and done, the band members will almost always be extremely accessible, considerate, kind and respectful of the fact that you’ve come out to spend your allowance with and on them.
You will leave that show feeling exhilirated and good, as you will feel after you listen to this record a few hundred times. You will feel special, like all the other special people who are busy feeling special with you. You will feel like a part of a community, even if it’s a community of people thinking that they’re actually being individualistic loners carving their own niches in life. And there’s something comforting in knowing that your rebellion is being overseen and orchestrated by such talented performers and astute cultural observers. And if you’re a parent, and you’re doing a good job of teaching your children right from wrong and good from bad, then you can take comfort in knowing that your MSI-devoted kids are being challenged to think, not simply being fed the unimaginative pablum of packaged rebellion.
Also, parents and other oldsters, the new MSI record packs a fun surprise for you: a deconstruction of that classic Rush chestnut, “Tom Sawyer.” On the surface, it seems like an odd choice for Urine and friends to tackle, but once you hear a fairly true-to-original arrangement of that song pumped out in just over two minutes, it’s kind of shocking how much is sounds like the rest of MSI’s songs, with all of their stop-start activity, tempo changes, multiple movements and parts and interesting synthetic sounds. If we played a vinyl copy of You’ll Rebel to Anything at 16 rpm, I think you and I both would be surprised how much it would sound like some classic prog rock. Just because you play fast, short songs doesn’t mean they can’t be knotty and complicated.
So, anyway, go buy this album now and start your own little rebellion, with all the rest of us happy lemmings of all shapes and ages.
The other two titanic musical presences that have arrived on my stereo this week are the six-disc box set The Complete Peel Sessions, 1978-2004 by The Fall, and Animal Lover by The Residents. I’d write more about them now, but I have to meet Marcia in ten minutes, and I ended up writing more about Mindless Self Indulgence than I thought I would. Later. Later. But go ahead and buy these two other records now anyway.