It’s rare that I criticize cleverness. Yet it was with my red critic’s pen in hand that I received the Sun’s new audio/visual experience. The sticker on the jewel case explains that the disc inside is a DVD, not a CD. It claims that Blame It on the Youth is the first DVD album in the world. More on that later. Another problem ripe for my complaining is the press release itself. The front page indicates that it is written in “Band Libs” format. Remember Mad Libs? It is the game in which verbs, nouns, adjectives, and other parts of speech are removed so that the participant can fill in the blanks with dirty words, or less funny normal words. For example: “He played MUSIC GENRE and MUSIC GENRE in high school then at 19 dropped out of Ohio State to VERB the stand-up bass for singer-songwriter Tim Easton.” That’s an actual quote from the actual press release. I gave the band a slight nod in recognition of the cleverness, but reading pages of the release is more tiring than funny or enjoyable. Would their album suffer from the same misguided cleverness?
Let me get back to the big deal here. This is the first DVD album released in the world, if we are to believe the sticker (and stickers never lie). Each of the 14 songs on the album is a music video. It’s a world first, and it comes from a relatively unknown American band. I received an audio-only copy as well (boring/traditional listeners will have audio-only options available on digital music sites and as a double vinyl), which I listened to first. I’m the type of moviegoer who reads the book after watching the movie, so that the movie isn’t disappointing. By the same token, I wanted to hear the music first, then flesh out my audio-visual experience with the music videos. Hearing just the music wasn’t odd; it’s not like hearing only the audio track of a movie, but I expected more. Some songs are fantastic as traditional visual-less artifacts, but others desperately need videos to redeem them.
I wouldn’t be doing the world’s first DVD album justice if I didn’t review it as a whole. So here it goes. The Sun is an interesting choice for a video band. It looks cool enough with its jeans or tailored suits, but lead singer Chris Burney looks kind of like a meld between Napoleon Dynamite and either dude from the Proclaimers. He still screams and acts like a rock star, though. Blame It on the Youth opens with three amazing songs backed by somewhat cool visuals. “Must Be You” rides an intricate guitar lick most of the way through and tells the tale of a guy getting arrested in high school due to some magical handmade birthday card. Or something like that; it’s hard to tell exactly. “Say Goodbye” is a more abstract video, but the closing section of the song features revved up pop bliss usually found only with the Super Furry Animals. “Justice” has the catchiest chorus of any song on the record and relies on ‘80s imagery, Asian models, and really fake looking plastic ray guns. You’ll be singing “Two of us entwined / This is not just justice” all day long, if you have a soul. You do have a soul, don’t you? These songs are excellent with or without the accompanying videos.
“Romantic Death” is one example of the video improving the audio/visual experience. After the parental warning leaves the screen, the video shows cropped images of guys and gals, as if shot by an 8mm camera. We only get to view the actors’ heads and the tops of their shoulders. Over the course of the song, the people masturbate. The shot never moves from the faces as we watch them build to a climax, release the endorphins, and calm to a resting state. The images are uncomfortable and tantalizing, often at once. Many of the participants have their most powerful orgasm moments during the abrasive, industrial bridge with these lyrics: “So much blood collected in this short time connected / Making little kiddy zombies”. The video is anti-war, pro-sex, and a startling piece of experimentation. It won’t be included on TRL any time soon, but even your little brother might be intrigued enough to give it a viewing.
Other highlights include “Waitin’ on High”, in which the band members are tended to by an Indy Car pit crew. During one hilarious segment, a crew member squirts water onto the glasses of a startled Burney. The grainy video for “Pavement Jive” showcases the band’s frenetic live energy. “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vein” features more anti-war sentiment. This time, photographic negative images and paper cutout ribbons float in the background. At one point, a crucifix penetrates the spread legs of a ribbon. Later, planes crash into buildings and explode into a storm of ribbons. And at this point I’ve only mentioned less than half of the songs. There’s also the fast acoustic punk of “2B4”, reminiscent of Pixies and the Violent Femmes. That video features what can only be described as newspaper zombies. Songs like “Valentine” have more traditional videos that work well alongside artsy clips.
Overall, the video images make the boring and/or unlistenable sections of songs intriguing. The one problem I see for this new format is that music is generally a secondary activity. We listen to music while we work out or ride in the car or write music reviews. Do consumers want to have to watch something, too? And does an up-and-coming band want to risk releasing the world’s first DVD album instead of a regular old CD? God knows, but the band has its music down pat. Mostly excellent and occasionally head-scratching, the Sun’s album is definitely a worthwhile experience. But I wonder what songs they could have written if they hadn’t spent so much time in front of those damn cameras.