When critics try to apply postmodern theory to music, one of the darlings of analysis in the past three years has to be Beck. Beck this, Beck that. As a po-mo poet he is noted for the jammed-together association of words and images to create meaning out of seeming nonsense. As a musician, Beck’s ahistorical synthesis of genres and styles makes him a fin de siecle dream. And, to give everyone’s favorite “Loser” his due, he’s loved by critics and fans. To top it all off, Beck is an anomaly in the face of the popular music industry, a Grammy-winner with street creds. Perhaps what makes him so attractive is his lack of a focal point, his self-categorization: Beck is to rap what Beck is to dance music what Beck is to soul what Beck it to funk, etc. (and how many critics does it take to use the label “Funk Soul Brother” before the title becomes stale?)
But if anomalous characterization, synthesis, and a popular culture repertoire make Beck the big brother of postmodern music, then surely he’s part of a family? If so, then perhaps the Bloodhound Gang are the snotty, juvenile, teenage brother in that family.
The Bloodhound Gang might resent the connection to beck, and vice versa, but they fit the bill. They’re certainly anomalous. How else to explain the semblance of a career fueled almost exclusively by “Fire Water Burn”‘s chorus, “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. Burn, motherfucker, burn,” a truly unlikely club hit? How else to explain the fact that 500,000 copies of their latest release Hooray for Boobies were sold in Germany before the album was even released in the United States? What, other than anomaly, can account for the bizarre cross-over popularity of the first single from that album, “The Bad Touch.” Except for the fact that the song is about sex.
My youngest brother, himself a high-school aged juvenile, introduced me to the Bloodhound Gang via their second album, 1996’s One Fierce Beer Coaster, the album that featured “Fire Water Burn,” and such classically titles tunes as “Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny” and “Hold Your Head Up High (And Blow Your Brains Out).” A devil’s haircut it’s not. Yet, for some reason, in spite of the amateur humor and run-of-the-mill thrashiness of the music, it became an instant guilty pleasure. The songs seemed to tap into the part of my brain that remembered being young and finding fart jokes and the middle finger funny.
But it wasn’t just misplaced nostalgia that drew me into the fold. There was also the rapid fire popular culture assault of Jimmy Pop’s lyrics. I make no bones about being a popular culture advocate, and sometimes junkie, and couched in the sex and drugs banality is a treasure trove of cultural referents that make real rap/hip-hop artists look uninformed. The sheer amount of culture thrust into each song alone makes the grounds for a textual analysis self-evident. And it goes way beyond jibes at the Discovery Channel.
The official Bloodhound Gang website (www.bloodhoundgang.com), maintained by guitarist Lupus Thunder, comes right out and says that Pop’s lyrics are “one-half wit and one-half half-wit,” and is entirely unapologetic about the infantile nature of some of the song topics. In fact, it’s decidedly proud of them.
The funniest story I know about the latest release is that it’s been long delayed. The same aforementioned brother of mine wanted it for Christmas a year ago so my forty-something mother had to go to the counter at her local record shop and ask the guy behind the counter if they’d received a copy of Hooray for Boobies yet. The guy just stared at her like she was nuts. It’s the kind of scene the Bloodhound Gang would probably relish.
Cultural critic and postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson noted that the historical sampling technique of pastiche is a decided feature of postmodernism. He notes that postmodern cultural texts do not just quote other cultures, other historical moments, they actually incorporate them to the point where any sense of critical distance threatens to collapse.
Still not convinced that songs about sex, losers, and meaningless life fit the bill? Keep in mind the Jameson statement while you hear lyrics such as these from “Take The Long Way Home” from the BHG’s new album:
“Did you ever read Voltaire’s “Candide”?
He says live life at Benny Hill freak out speed
Not a quote of what he wrote but a paraphrase
Make it up as you go Keyser Sose
Highlights yes but don’t underline ‘em
Just live for N.O.W. like Gloria Steinem
Life is like Marion Barry
It’s not all it’s cracked up to be”
Having said all of that, and really believing that a critical case needs to be made for more than just the popular po-mo artists, the Bloodhound Gang’s latest release falls short of the mark that they established with One Fierce Beer Coaster. It’s been four years since that disc, and the songs on Hooray for Boobies were mostly written and recorded in 1998, so it begs the question: what took so long? Whatever it was, Hooray for Boobies seems to indicate that the band has hit a speedbump in their humor. It happens to lots of bands that try to be funny or shocking (Too Much Joy, The Frogs) but recycled humor is always going to sound stale. Not only that, but Hooray for Boobies is a big departure in sound for the band.
The grindcore-rap sound has been subdued by keyboards, and what I’m sure is a deliberately ironic stance on technopop, but it takes some of the punch out of the punchlines. Jimmy Pop’s lyrics are as dead on as before, but their radio friendly single, “The Bad Touch,” is less a sell-out aberration from their previous music as it is representative of the new direction they’ve taken as a band. Not that BHG would have ever taken any prizes as metal, but the tunes are almost lightweight in comparison to their previous work. To keep the comparison running, think of it as Beck’s Tropicalia versus Odelay!
There are still enough tunes on the disc to please prior fans, including “The Inevitable Return of the Great White Dope,” “Mope” (with its hilarious Falco/Frankie Goes to Hollywood/Metallica melding), “Magna Cum Nada,” “Hell Yeah,” and “Right Turn Clyde.” But mixed in with all of that are tunes that, while they retain the sexual and juvenile humor of the other work, just come off as lame. For instance, although the premise of “The Ballad of Chasey Lain” is funny (Jimmy Pop’s ode to his favorite porn star, written in order to try and get her to sleep with him), it’s so comparatively empty to the other songs (or even “Fire Water Burn”) that its boring. The fourth grade Casio stylings on “A Lap Dance Is So Much Better When The Stripper Is Crying” make this spoken word knock against honky-tonk country even more annoying than it should have been.
Maybe its some kind of reaction against the preempting of rock-rap by bands like Limp Bizkit or Korn. The Bloodhound Gang covered this territory first, and did it better, but there’s no doubt that they’d be called derivative if they rolled out similar schlock now.
As much as I recommend the guilty pleasure and the postmodern complexity of Jimmy Pop and the Bloodhound Gang, if you’re new to this band, do yourself a favor and pick up One Fierce Beer Coaster before you buy Hooray for Boobies. Otherwise, this latest release will just leave you scraping the cheese out of your stereo. However, if you’re a fan of yore, pick it up. You won’t be terribly disappointed, and supporting this album will mean that the Bloodhound Gang keep it up, and hopefully come back with something stronger on the next go round.
// Notes from the Road
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