Messer Chups: Crazy Price

[5 December 2005]

By Jason MacNeil

Whenever I think of Russian rock music, I think of two things. The first is when Letterman had Boris Grebeshnikov on and he rocked out on a rather inanely titled ditty called “Radio Silence”. The second is rummaging through the various record stores delete bins and seeing anywhere from 40 to 45 copies of Autograf with the obligatory hammer and sickle located on the cassette sleeve, only to come back to the same store a month later and see that not one had been touched or looked at. But like everything else, things have changed, and besides the faux lesbian duo T.A.T.U.—still grasping to minute 13 of the 15 of fame—there are several other Russian acts that have a lot to give. Messer Chups is a case in point. Listening to this album gives you the impression they grew up on nothing but ‘50s surf guitar and rockabilly, but they are able to pull out a lot of different layers and effects to make things interesting.

“Fantomasofobia” kicks the record off with a spacey intro that sounds like something Leningrad kids might have heard dubbed over Star Trek. But after that half-minute speech, the bass line from guitarist and bassist Oleg Gitarkin makes this an engaging and infectious little romp along the lines of what The International Noise Conspiracy are doing now, minus the politically charged lyrics. There’s some great guitar work throughout, especially with the darker, dreary tones found at the song’s heart, tones in the vein of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “Sex Euro And Evils Pop” is similar, but relies more on a funky and terribly quirky series of samples and electro-tinged effects to make it a trippy, sci-fi instrumental. Horns and a cheesy, 60s-era organ chime in, making you envision a low-budget ‘60s action scene from a “B” film involving stalled cars, lots of cardboard boxes and a dark alley with crates of produce.

Fortunately, “Sex Euro And Evils Pop” is an aberration on the record, for “Chasing For Young Blood” is a swinging, jazzy-meets-surf tune that might have come from the Stray Cats’ back catalogue. Bouncy and causing you to shake your head slightly, the snippets of terrifying screams are offset with a tight rhythm section and some fine guitar work from Gitarkin and his comrades. Throughout the album, and as mentioned in the bio, Gitarkin seems to be fascinated with various U.S. and Italian horror flicks, which is why you can hear shrieks and screams in the distance from time to time, as is the case with “In 3 Minutes Till Massacre”, which is perhaps the most contemporary sounding tune on this 16-song album. The hip-hop backbeat is a plus as various sounds and samples are revisited again.

The problem with many of these surf-guitar instrumental based albums is there is really only so much territory you can mine that hasn’t been mined thousands of times before. “Ghost Rides To West” is a frantic jaunt that has the stand-up bass strings being plucked within an inch of their life, or so it seems. Yet this tune isn’t anything special and only recalls refined instrumental bands like Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (the band responsible for the theme to The Kids in the Hall). The messiest of the lot is the scat-tinged polka-like “Bing Bang Bang Bong Kong”, which is perhaps too vivid a description for such a song. Even Gogol Bordello wouldn’t poke at this album with a ten-foot pole! Yet for each miscue, there is something redeeming in the song, as the boogie-based garage rock arrangement is quite solid. A perfect example of this is the aptly titled “Diabolik Boogie”, which brings to mind a concoction devised by the B-52s circa “Rock Lobster”, as well as the Violent Femmes.

As the album progresses, they push the boundaries with a rambling, jazzy pace during “A Plateful Brain” that shifts gears into this quasi-harrowing tone that would be perfect for either a chase scene from The Pink Panther or a pursuit on foot in any James Bond film. However, the one true highlight from this second side is “Gangster They Called Horizon-Man” which ambles along with a pinch of funk, a teaspoon of new wave and a kettle of blips and bleeps to boot. It sounds so off-kilter it seems on-kilter. Others are just sonic meltdowns, particularly the island flavored “Monkey Safari”, with which even Elvis wouldn’t have done anything. But “Satan Jeans” saves the day with its dark and brooding guitar work and light, airy backbeat.

While the title is Crazy Price, a better one might have been Crazy Cantina Band-ish Album With Some Fine Songs.

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