For a bunch of guys from Oklahoma, Chainsaw Kittens sure as hell sound British. Vocalist Tyson Meade shares enunciation skills with Damon Albarn, and has that weird, Madonna accent; Madonna, of course, is on a mission to convince the world that she’s really from that other Detroit. The one near London. And Meade seems convinced that Oklahoma is just the tiniest bit south of Scotland. Musically, Chainsaw Kittens have a lot more in common with Blur and even Oasis than they do with The Presidents of the United States of America, the band with which they are probably the most easily compared. It’s a strange world.
But once you get past this weird bit of aural disorientation, The All American isn’t a hard listen. The songs verge on pop, with enough catchy sing-songy background do-wops to make the Shirelles jealous, and clever, piano-heavy instrumentation that’s just enough to hold the tracks together but never so much as to really challenge the easy-listenability of the record. Some of the lyrics have that They Might Be Giants absurdity to them, even when discussing serious topics and, for the most part, this inconsistency works for them. However, the common problem with such disproportionate writing is that, often, the point of the songs can all too easily pass you by. For example, “John Wayne”, in which Chainsaw Kittens tell us that “John Wayne hates gays”, is a tribute to Matthew Sheppard. Hard tellin’, which is a shame—it’s one of the only songs inspired by Sheppard’s murder that is actually more than a sappy, predictable tearjerker; neither Melissa Etheridge nor the Indigo Girls could pull it off, but Chainsaw Kittens do…as long as you’re paying close attention.
And this seems to be the main point: this is an album that’s chock full of pop culture references, but if it was just on in the background, I’d never have picked up on the fact that “Shutdown”, for example, is about the prison-bound romance and marriage of convicted ice-cream-eating-parent murderer Eric Menendez. And then there’s “Gleaming Soft White Teens”, about teen idols on acid. It’s enough to make me love Britney Spears.
And speaking of teen idols, and acid, we must talk about the Go-Gos. The Go-Gos, it turns out, are all over this album. You can just feel it. Not only does The All American end with a cover of “We Got the Beat” (which strangely and somehow successfully runs straight into Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s “Nightclubbing”), but the guitar work on much of this album sounds like Rick Springfield could have written it after many frustrated hours of trying to make out (with) Belinda Carlisle’s cleavage on the towel-draped cover of Beauty and the Beat. But don’t get me wrong—this is a good thing. That same thing that made the Go-Gos so goddamned irresistible is what’s going to save Chainsaw Kittens. It’s not something I can or want to put my finger on, but it’s definitely there.
And that’s a good thing for them, because they are a band without a tag line, a group of musicians who don’t have an image to uphold or a reputation to protect. This, also, is a good thing. They are simply a talented band from Oklahoma that sounds like the best of mid-1980s Euro-pop mixed in with a touch of good ole American horniness and, at the weirdest of moments, a heavy Pixies influence. Like I said, it’s a strange world. But it works.
// Notes from the Road
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