Bless these men. I’ll get to why later.
I’ll be showing my frames of reference with this, but if I had to compare New Wet Kojak to other bands, I would say: Imagine Paul Humphreys of OMD on one mid-‘80s keyboard, with Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys helping out by programming an early ‘90s sequencer, and the rhythm section of The Psychedelic Furs circa the original version of “Pretty In Pink.” Only nothing like that. Let me try again.
NWK is Charles Bennington, Scott McCloud, Nick Pellicciotto, Johnny Temple and Geoff Turner. McCloud sings with a deadpan sense of absurdity over sheer, stimulating settings played by himself on acoustic guitar, Temple on bass, Pellicciotto on drums, Bennington on saxophone, and Turner on electric guitar, keyboards and “ambient sounds.”
“Punxnotdead,” the third song on Do Things is the great “song that would be a hit single, were I God” off this album for me. It’s seemingly corrupt and artless lyrics tempt you at first to dismiss it, but the music induces you to go back. Upon closer attention you realize what it is McCloud is saying. Now, I’m tired of hearing irony being overused. Not the figure of speech, the actual word. Both because most reviewers of popular culture are too quick to assume it’s presence (they can’t admit they don’t believe in anyone’s sincerity), and because most people use it to mean a funny coincidence, which it is not. Irony is a figure of speech in which the meaning is opposite to that said. And that said: “baby, punxnotdead…and Marilyn Manson is not a pussy…he’s a rock God…with a hot bod,” that, my friend, is irony writ large-unless you’re silly enough to think that Manson is a rock God, or that punk’s not…you get the idea.
Or at least I think it is. This band has driven presumably rational human beings to a marked inability to reach a firm conclusion before, as epitomized by their record company’s press release, which can be summed up in one word: “Huh?”
Take another example. The unusual “sticky 2 me” starts by establishing the tempo with drumsticks, then the guitars and keyboard snake in, and McCloud makes the pronouncement “music is sticky,” and we’re off. I’m not going to tell you where it goes from there, partly because I’m not entirely sure myself!
“Auto e” is the closest Do Things comes to schmaltz, or direct, easy to grasp songwriting. Given that it could double as the love theme from David Cronenberg’s film of Crash, (the e is for erotic) that’s about as close as Britney Spears is to a lifetime achievement award. In anything, from anyone, except perhaps the makers of Wonderbra.
I admit that may have sounded gratuitous, but (watch this) I can actually connect this album to the ubiquitous Spears. Do Things has something of the solemn nature of the typical high-school student’s growing pains, that time when everything is terribly, terribly important, even things that aren’t really. It also has a compelling, assured kinkiness. Picture a John Hughes screenplay directed by David Lynch. But anyway, there, high school student, kinkiness, Britney Spears. Don’t make me do this again.
The careful reader will have noticed that I have already used three cinematic comparisons in discussing this band. In fact a lot of the album does sound like the soundtrack LP to a nonexistent film, maybe the Hughes/Lynch collaboration I hypothesized above. Which is actually a brilliant idea in and of itself—Hughes’ credible female characters and nice line in dialogue could counter Lynch’s great images but generally bankrupt story sense and anti-women themes-but that’s neither here nor there.
The overall sound is the greatest virtue here; songs just float along on their own popped jazz or jazzed pop vibe.
So why bless them? Because they put lyrics like “I wanna party hard…like Jean-Lucâ¦Goddard” in their songs. Bless them for going for the pseudo-intellectual namedrop rather than the Star Trek reference. Which is always the best way to go, in my view. After all, when asked about music all Star Trek ever said is “What is the meaning? What purpose is singing?” When Dorothy Parker was asked if she had attended a recent performance of the Philharmonic, she replied, “I’ve been too fucking busy and vice versa.” New Wet Kojak, something tells me, could relate.
// Notes from the Road
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