[2 July 2014]
About 15 years ago, I was lounging in the shared house that now ex-PopMatters reviewer Darryl G. Wright was sharing with a group of friends on a lazy afternoon. What I remember about that afternoon was that, at one point, Darryl turns to me, probably with beer in hand, and goes, “Hey, Zach, you like Hüsker Dü, right? I’ve got something for you to listen to.” And, with that, he went over to the CD player and slipped in an early album from the ‘80s by hardcore band the Meatmen. I can’t exactly remember what I heard, except that it was scrappy, lo-fi, and raw. Indeed, it punched all the right buttons in my then-punk loving period, and I thought at the back of my head, “The next time I’m in a CD store, I might just have to look out for a Meatmen album.” Except, in Ottawa, Canada, where I live, the CD stores – aside from the independents – are generally lame, and I never found a Meatmen CD. Well, flash forward 15 or so years, and what shows up on the list that goes out to PopMatters writers? That’s right. The latest Meatmen CD. So I picked it up. And I’ve been living to regret that decision ever since.
Here’s the thing: PopMatters is a generally progressive publication, so I’m probably as surprised as you are that a Meatmen album showed up on the list that goes out to writers. You see, the Meatmen have made a trademark of their sound to be the most crass, offensive, and vulgar band around. Except, and this is coming from a guy who wrote a few gross short stories under a pen name, such as “Angry Anus” and “Showing My Cock to the World”, the Meatmen, at least on their latest album, aren’t really all that offensive. At least, not to me. Look at the back of any Anal Cunt album and you’ll probably come up with a whole whack of titles that are way more offensive than anything to be found on Savage Sagas. So, as far as a shtick goes, the Meatmen are fairly remarkably tame. Even with songs titled “The Ballad of Stinky Penis”, “I’m Gonna Fuck You Up!”T and “Big Bloody Booger on the Bathroom Wall”. Honestly, I’m not offended. Not in the least. However, there’s a social responsibility that comes with being a rock music critic, such as I am, and I feel that it is part of my duty to let you know that there are jokes about Jewish people, kids (a definite no-no, even if you’re not really offended by that kind of thing), and school shootings on this record. So how much you get out of the Meatmen all depends upon what your tolerance for the tasteless and vulgar there is.
Still not convinced if this is the album for you? Let me quote for you the wise and witty writing of this band on “The Ballad of Stinky Penis”:
He crept across the desert sand
A fetid wiener in his hand
Traversed the East and clear to West
Prevailing winds that still attest
The hot-stank-breeze from off his junk
The legend grew and folks cried “Phew!”
His salty log was icky poo!
Stinky Peen ... Penis
So, yeah, this is a band that is never going to win awards for their penmanship, no matter how cleverly crass their lyrics may be. How much you love Savage Sagas is going to depend upon whether or not you find this kind of stuff hilarious or not. Me? I’m on the fence. The ribald side of me can dig what they’re trying to do here, but there’s another part of me that is not quite recoiling in horror, but feeling that taking the Meatmen to task for their adolescent lyrics is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. I guess what I’m trying to say is that your mileage might vary, and I would imagine that if you’re reading this review, you’re probably already a fan of the band. So what I’m writing here is probably the ultimate critic-proof piece. No matter how many times the Meatmen, in particular singer Tesco Vee, lobs f-bombs as though they were hand grenades, there’s probably someone out there who’ll really dig it. And, I suppose, I have to respect that.
However, what makes Savage Sagas a bit of a pain is just how neutered this is for a metal-meets-hardcore punk album musically. Honestly, you probably have heard the licks that the group mines on either a Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, or Ramones album. There’s nothing here that’s particularly startling, which makes “The Ballad of Stinky Penis”, with all of its Spaghetti Western abandon, stick out like a sore thumb. Which is a way of saying that it is probably the very best song on the album, for it, at least, takes some chances musically. The rest? Well, it’s pretty regurgitated. There’s nothing new or startling, and a lot of the riffs, quite frankly, bore me to tears. I guess the side of me that loves Hüsker Dü has moved on to other things. But, again, some of you out there might dig the familiarity of the hooks, so more power to you.
So how do I even approach reviewing Savage Sagas? This is something that has been on my mind for the past few days. On one hand, in a rather retrogressive way, there’s much to enjoy on the record if your mind is definitely in the gutter (as mine definitely is). On the other hand, for a record that tries very damn hard to be shocking, this is pretty hairless stuff. Even the skit at the very end of the album, where a belligerent fan approaches Vee and asks to have his scrotum signed, have his buttocks urinated on, and be beaten senseless with a dildo is pretty docile. The band tries hard to shock, but, in this day and age, there’s very little that’s shocking, unless, of course, you’re going to write a song about child pornography, which, you have to give the Meatmen credit, is something they don’t do (even though there’s a reference to Honey Boo Boo’s private parts in one of the skits). So take that as you will, and pick this up if you’re into moderately tasteless material with familiar punk-metal hooks. The rest of you? Well, you’ll probably want to give this record the widest berth possible. Still, one thing remains: There’s at least one guy I know in my social network of friends who’s probably going to love this album. To each their own, man. To each their own.