What's So Hard About Being Human, Anyway?
If it’s true that you can learn about the world from listening to music, then it must also be true that some of that information can be wrong. Let’s talk about some of the incorrect statements contained in this album.
“It’s hard to be human / Sometimes it’s hard to be human.” This seemingly innocuous statement is the first thing that the Makers really say on this album. It’s the chorus to the first real song here, and it’s sung with a lot of conviction by lead singer Michael, but it’s just wrong on a lot of levels. First of all, it’s not all that hard to be human. I mean, look around sometime; go to a state fair or something. It makes even less sense if you figure that he means that it’s hard to act human, as opposed to being some kind of robot who can’t even respond to the death of a former girlfriend or friend or groupie or whoever it is that dies in the course of this song. Humans have it easy: all you have to do is put on some shades, sniffle a lot, act sensitive, and hit on someone at the funeral. I mean, y’know, duh.
“Jesus died to save rock and roll.” This jaw-dropper is featured rather prominently in “Calling Elvis, John and Jesus”, and is just ridiculous on its face. Rock and roll was invented when Ike Turner came up with his impossibly wonderful piano line on Jackie Brenton’s “Rocket 88” in 1954. Jesus, on the other hand, lived 2,000 years ago, and probably liked traditional Jewish music. If Jesus had saved rock and roll, then we never would have had Bread or Loverboy or the Crash Test Dummies. And Christian rock (except, arguably, P.O.D.) wouldn’t suck.
That song contains a lot of other question marks as well. The very idea of yoking Jesus and John Lennon together is wrong-headed and pandering; wasn’t it John who pointed out—rightly—that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus? Didn’t he say that it was easy to imagine that there was no heaven, etc.? Sounds like someone was just trying to suck up to the Beatles worshippers and the Jesus worshippers at the same time, while simultaneously trying to rip off early David Bowie (vocal stylings, song structure, sense of aggrieved drama) and Dion (his crappy comeback single/huge hit “Abraham, Martin and John”). Bowie and Dion together? That’s just yucky.
Also yucky (still the same song here) is the retro-ass reactionism of their oh-so-brave pro-rock “comment” that “DJs don’t play guitar”, like that’s a bad thing. Do we really want DJs to play guitar? I submit to you that we do not, and I offer up Moby as proof. (Oh, easy target. My bad, Mobes. Us vegans who hate both Bush and Nader have to stick together.) I’m confused as to who the Makers think they’re impressing with this rawk tawk. Look, Michael Maker or Shelley or whatever last name you’re going by these days, you’re just going to have to wake up and smell the techno. I’m as rock and roll as they come. In my youth, I actually called into KGON-FM to request a Queen song; I’ve seen Heart in concert; I have two different CDs by Cinderella in my home. If I can open my heart to electronica, so can you.
Let’s take on stuff from later in the album. “Laughter Then Violence” wastes a great semi-Lizzy guitar line on philosophical questions like “Are you invisible / When you are alone / Are you untouchable / Are you turning to stone”. In the power-ballad “Concert of Colors” they don’t even bother to try: “I’m like a merry-go-round / That never lets you down / And the music’s too loud / You look to the crowd / In a concert of colors”. Hell, they even find a way to screw up a song with the ace title “Suicide Blues” by phoning it in on the lyrical tip: “I want to die / When everything is all right / Take a look at my life girl / Kiss me and wish me goodnight”. That’s a hell of a come-on, no? Ladies, are you interested now? I didn’t think so.
“But Cibula, all you’re doing is lifting quotes from random songs on the album and twisting them out of context! Is that really the stuff of a good review?”
Well, what do you want me to say? That the Makers had a good thing going when they were a neo-garage band and then they went and screwed it up by turning into a neo-glam outfit? That their last two records, the concept albums Psychopathia Sexualis and Rock Star God, have clearly gone to their heads and made them think that they should do another one without really having a concept? That you really shouldn’t try to sound like David Bowie and Sweet and Slade unless you’re English and it’s the 1970s? That the album is way too long at 41 minutes?
Well, I believe all these things. But I’m not unrelentingly negative about this record either, so let’s pass out some props:
Donnie Maker has both a gift for melody to go along with his gift for mimicry, and it shines through on some of these songs. “Calling My Name” is a pretty rock waltz that shows that the band could be using its powers for good and not evil, and the snippets entitled “Wild Gray Wonder” and “Dear Father, I Think I’m Falling” actually make you want to hear more. Jamie Jack Frost turns in a very credible job on lead guitar, and Jay America is a good, if underchallenged, drummer.
And there is one song here that almost justified the whole album to me. “Addicted to Dying” is, frankly, awesome. It’s just as self-pitying and hyped-up as you might imagine-but it works completely, due to the Makers’ return to their roots as a soul-punk band. This is where they’re clearly more comfortable: the hooks mean something here, the lyrics work in the context of the song and aren’t all that embarrassing out of context (“So tired / Kill myself in the morning”), the guitar solos are quite ass-kicking indeed, and the wah-wah go-go breakdown that rules the fourth and fifth minute of the song is pure rock heaven.
I hate it when critics say this, but I’m gonna say this anyway: if the rest of the record was like this, I’d love the rest of the record. As it is, it’s just cruel of the Makers to do one amazing song and then piss away the rest of it by being self-consciously glam and working against their true nature. Come back to the light, fellas. And listen to some techno or something in the meantime. Welcome to the new century.
// Notes from the Road
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