I hope you’re not easily offended.
If you’re a sensitive type, you should probably leave right now, before I start quoting lyrics. You’re not going to like it. I can guarantee that. Maybe you could just slip over into that Sufjan review? Don’t forget your cardigan.
The Empire Strikes Back
Race and Racism in 70s Britain
(In the Red)
US: 9 May 2006
UK: Available as import
There, that’s better. We can talk now. Because you have to be the right sort of person to appreciate how brilliantly offensive The Country Teasers can be, the kind of person who’s not put off in the slightest by tales of childhood sex abuse, terms like “jew” “coon” and “queer” and innuendos about Spiderman. And that’s the first song. We’ve got lots of ground to cover. Try and keep up.
This is the seventh full-length album from The Country Teasers, a wickedly intelligent (and probably just plain wicked) band of troublemakers from Edinburgh, Scotland. You can tell how smart they are right from the packaging, a dead-on send up of university-sponsored political correctness, purportedly sanctioned by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. “The Empire Strikes Back examines the place of ‘race’ and racism in the political transformation of Britain at the end of the ‘70s, and argues that Britain has entered a long-term political and economic crisis which has brought new urgency to the politics of race and nation…” the sermon begins, and the semi-quotes around race alone are enough to bring tears of recognition to anyone who’s ever attended an academic conference.
Musically, the Teasers follow a stripped-down, Fall-like groove, laced once in a while with country or blues elements. “Spiderman in the Flesh”, for instance, is a lo-fi country waltz, plucked out on a porch-sitting acoustic guitar. Pedal steel flourishes nail it squarely in a country tradition, but the lyrics are completely mad. Wallers cruises through every negative stereotype in the racist handbook, ending with a triumphant, “If I had my way/ I’d have all of you shot.” The jittery “White Patches”, is similarly off-putting, with its pounding refrain of “Why don’t black people like my music?” (“Do they hate me? Or are they just a little bit too thick?”).
The lyrics are so beyond-the-pale shocking that you might not even notice the music at first, but it’s tight, mesmeric and repetitive, a fitting accompaniment to the insanely anxious mood of this album. There are some lyrical interludes—“Mos E17sley” is almost beautiful, and “Panic Holiday”, with its slow, liquid guitar line, is surely the most tranquil evocation of anxiety disorders ever written.
The question, as with all satire, is how far can you go? Are the Country Teasers sending up intolerance and ignorance… or encouraging it? Is it okay to laugh at this stuff, or does that make you an oppressor, too? Rock music has always been, partly, about the thrill of the forbidden. Records like this one make you realize exactly how tame most of the misbehavior is.