As of this writing, there is a certain pop diva who is climbing what’s left of the music “charts” with a startling amount of ease. Her face seems to be everywhere, from Coke ads on digital billboards to fluff news stores on Yahoo!‘s main page. Come Grammy time, we’ll get to hear about her some more. And more. Should you express some distate for either her music or just the overexposure on display, you’ll be shouted down on social media with empty-calorie cries of “haters gonna hate!” In other words, lighten up and enjoy the ride. But what if you just don’t care for it all? Who says you have to enjoy it? Aren’t we all entitled to our own opinion? And isn’t it no great crime if we voice that opinion? If punk rock taught us one and only one thing, it’s to stand up for what you believe in. That includes concluding ending sentences with prepositions! Why should others tell you what to like and what to be interested in? God, don’t you just hate the Grammys?
If the above slew of rhetorical questions really speaks to you, stop what you’re doing and go directly to the title track for The Dead Milkmen’s Pretty Music for Pretty People. It’s the antitode you’re looking for, taking the band’s signature irreverence to awkward highs both musically and lyrically. “In your speech at the Grammys / You didn’t forget to thank your mom / You were concise and stayed on topic / You didn’t mention race or unemployment / You avoided the subject of poverty / ‘Cause you know that music is all about enjoyment.” Rodney Anonymous’s sneer can be felt through the whole thing. “Don’t forget to wave to the people you screwed / To get that perfect ten out of ten review / We can’t wait until you have that breakdown / Sitting in rehab, crying about fame / ‘Cause we know the last time we’ll hear your music / Is when we’re all dancing on your grave.” And that is just the first track out of a total of 17.
Pretty Music for Pretty People is a very good Dead Milkmen album. They’ve already squashed the notion that their reunion was another piece of rock ‘n’ roll opportunist nostalgia with their 2011 album The King in Yellow. Carrying the idea further of the Milkmen functioning as a working band without scraping for filler is another thing to behold entirely. For all the snot being slung, Pretty Music for Pretty People is a joy to hear. It’s a perverse reminder that one of rock music’s chief pillars is having fun at other people’s expense.
The thought has crossed my mind that bands like The Dead Milkmen may run out of things to be pissed off about or satirize. But there’s an awful lot of crap out there competing for our attention, which means that the well may never run dry for Anonymous and his merry band. There’s the Simply Living movement taken to absurd levels on “All You Need Is Nothing” with a “restaurant that never asked for cash / They serve a wicked side of corned beef hash / Just wait ‘til they close and then dig through the trash.” The political right gets two sharp jabs; one aimed at religion (“Big Words Make Baby Jesus Cry”) the other at gun ownership (“Welcome to Undertown”). Rodney Anonymous uses “Undertown” as yet another chance to tweak the nose of pop/rock’s past. “My gun is black and you’re gonna be in trouble! / Hey now, hey now, hey now!” It’s also in the chorus of “Dark Clouds Gather Over Middlemarch”: “Hold me closer, tiny cancer / Got a nicotine patch, I’ve got a cigarette.” But my favorite piece of homage has to come from one of Pretty Music‘s shortest blasts, “Now I Wanna Hold Your Dog”. Here you have a guy screaming that he just might reach his social aspirations if he’s allowed to hold some girl’s damn dog. And remember when the Beatles sang “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” in German? Well, the word for “dog” in German is conveniently close to the word for “hand” in both languages (“Hund”, with a long ‘o’ vowel) as Anonymous screams “Komm gib mir deine Hund” over and over for a bridge. As the feedback holds after the final beat, he exclaims “I’ve got blisters on my…PE-NIS!” I really did laugh, out loud and everything.
If you only know The Dead Milkmen from “Bitchin’ Camaro” and/or “Punk Rock Girl”, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the different varieties of music they continue to mine. Punk can come in many forms, like the dirge of “The Sun Turns Our Patio Into A Lifeless Hell” or the goofy Camper Van Beethoven-like bounce matched to “Ronald Reagan Killed the Black Dahlia”. But then there’s an airy folk rock to “Mary Anne Cotton (The Prisoner’s Song)”, a space rock opera in waiting on “Somewhere Over Antarctica” and their spin on “Strange Currencies” with “Little Rebel Mine” (if you end up with the 18 track edition). One more that I have to mention is “Anthropology Days”. The music doesn’t break any pre-existing punk barriers (although it does remind me that Joe Genaro is gutsy to rely on a clean guitar tone so much), but the chorus is a delightful display of punk’s distaste for anti-intellectualism: “A little lesson in history / This is a little song just to fire you up / So the next time you meet an idiot / You’ll remember to tell them to shut the fuck up!”
And that’s about all there is to say. Saying more risks overselling it. If you ever had a spot in your heart for this kind of shenanigans, you’ll find Pretty Music for Pretty People fun and stimulating.
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