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Princess Superstar

My Machine

(!K7; US: 13 Sep 2005; UK: 12 Sep 2005)

It’s the second best concept album of the year. No, wait. It’s the best rock opera concerned with celebrity since Tommy. Shit, wait—this isn’t doing My Machine justice. How about: It’s one of the best motherfuckin’ albums of the year. Got that? Repeat 10,000 times, bitch.


You’ll have to forgive the language. Princess Superstar has me all out of sorts with her Pollack-splatters of scatalogy, spraying swears through a sci-fi adventure from the future (and the distant future). While she comes from hip-hop roots, Superstar pushes the boundaries on this release, making a world of electrotrash shimmer with it mechanized beats and dried sweat. Covering 25 tracks and 75 minutes, My Machine rips through several scary, hilarious, raunchy, and surprisingly affecting millenia.


We could rightly call Princess Superstar a rapper, but she’s foregon the more intricate wordplay in favor of blank verse and end rhyme, and replacing traditional beats with dirty synth-rock (she’s almost incessantly “dirty”, but I’ll use a thesaurus for any other times this term would be applicable). Spoken narrative sections abound, but they seamlessly connect the songs while filling in the story and maintaining the rhyme until the narrator realizes he doesn’t have to talk that way anymore. Of course, he’s just the first-level narrative, as he introduces the story that will actually be told by one of Superstar’s duplicants’ descendents (who passes the story off at one point for a bathroom break), occasionally veering off for songs performed by the duplicants or explanations by Superstar.


Oh, right—you need the story first or that doesn’t make any sense. Here it is: No, the plot would take me longer to explain than for you to listen to, which I’d much rather you do, but My Machine basically tells about the rise of a single-celebrity society in which Superstar has used clones to take over the entertainment of a fully commodified world. The clones revolt, brains hold a revolution, and we question the cult of celebrity, the importance we relegate, the role of conspicuous consumption, the roots of identity, and we run out of album before we do ideas.


The real genius in the album lies not in the content—Superstar says little of true originality—but in the delivery. A relentless sense of humor drives the album, which lends an element of seriousness to the whole adventure. A similar attitude prevents the aggressive sexuality from actually being sexy, the frequent references to “tits”, “lips”, or “coochie coos” functioning as body descriptors and not come-ons, references to earthiness and the physical side of a superficial culture rather than the erotic side of a spiritual world.


This attitude comes through a mostly rapped delivery, often steady and evenly paced. Superstar saves the quick internal rhyme, enjambment, and extra poetic feet (occasionally through the use of a “motherfuck” variation) for the most crucial emotional and intellectual moments, such as the end of the first half of “My Machine”, when the duplicant singer of the track wants to heal the world, feed the world, be a band-aid, an invincible peace treaty, but, shit, fuck, she can’t even be herself without ending up in the toilet. The quick internal rhymes make the formal structure hiccup until you pay attention. Superstar takes an ostensibly silly song about being a box of cereal and turns it into the album’s most moving moment, then switches gears into a heart-banger with strings to question what we’d really do if we had the power to do anything.


The moment leads to the death of celebrity (the end of Superstar/superstar). The duplicants call Superstar “Conchetta”, her real-life birth name, invoking the power of naming inherent in many religious and philosophical traditions and echoing the deconstructionist thought that the Mensa-member Princess Superstar has utilized throughout the album. As producer, singer, writer, everything, Superstar uses her instruments to break down the genres she loves while rhyming small, bitter hacks to the soulless body of the world she inhabits.


Let’s see: sci-fi, mechanized, synthesized, deconstructed, formalist, dystopic, anti-entertainment, pro-logic. But guess what—My Machine is very fun. Nearly any of these songs could be stripped out of the album and thrown into a mix for your next party. Superstar shocks and amuses just as well now as she did on tracks like “Bad Babysitter”, but now she’s run her sullied (see? I told you I had a thesaurus) ditties together to make a huge artistic statement.


After a rejection of mindless entertainment and an almost silly argument in favor of unleashing the brain (or something equally dubious), she drops the funkiest bassline of the album to power the groove of “The Happy”, and sings for a spaced-out house crowd, undermining any idea you might have had that she really meant all entertainment holds us back. Then she brings in classic rock guitars and revisits the funk in time for a Woodstock-era breakdown. You’ve had nearly 70 minutes to think and in case you’ve been sitting on your hands, now you must shake it.


Then we return to the teacher character who explains that we’re about to get a report on, well, some kind of made up “obsessionism” that’s too long to capture but clearly a shot at the dry intellectualism that could so easily lead to, um, very serious analyses of pop culture and article titles straight out of your “Intro to the English Major” syllabi. Princess Superstar (author of foreplay ode “Wet! Wet! Wet!”) doesn’t have any more interest in mental aridness than she does in pop culture vapidity. My Machine offers as much fun as it does complexity, and the two traits continually reinforce each other even as they cancel out their complimentary claims to primacy. And there are plenty of dir—ribald jokes, too.

Rating:

Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.


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