[15 March 2007]
When you pop in an album and the first words to boom from the speakers are “We are going to have open sexual intercourse on every street corner of America!”, it’s hard not to feel surprisingly shocked, slightly disgusted, highly intrigued, and deliriously thrilled regarding the ride you’re about to be taken on. Needless to say, Mickey Avalon really knows how to get people’s attention and keep it.
With his self-titled debut album released through MySpace Records (as if MySpace hasn’t already become an omnipresent internet entity, now the company is taking aim at the record industry), Mickey Avalon has single-handedly invented the genre of “glam rap.”
Upon first look, the heavily tattooed Avalon exudes a certain Iggy Pop aesthetic. His appearance is striking in a strange way, heavy on androgyny that still manages to lean ever-so-slightly more towards the masculine. There’s something alternately scuzzy, yet very likable about Avalon. Similarly, musically, Mickey Avalon combines the raunchy, self-assured pop of early Prince with the humor and lyrical flow of Ludacris, and the autobiographical, story-weaving lyrics of Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter.
While Avalon’s sound bears comparison to a wide array of musical artists, the man’s life story contains even more remarkably odd elements that sit side-by-side. The grandchild of Auschwitz survivors, throughout his teen years, Avalon contended with heroin-addicted parents. His father cleaned up, only to die as a result of a car accident a short while later. On the other hand, Avalon’s mother had been successfully rehabilitated and took up selling marijuana for pocket money, eventually teaching Mickey how to make a buck off of dealing the sticky-icky himself.
From there, Avalon dabbled in Orthodox Judaism, finding himself married and with an infant daughter before the age of 20. At this stage in the game, Avalon could have easily shared a bill with Matisyahu were it not for the tragic and decadent turn his life would soon take. Like his parents, Avalon became addicted to heroin and consequently, alienated from his wife and daughter. He turned to prostitution and street hustling to pay for his habit before his mother took him in and urged him to detox. While Avalon successfully beat his addiction, his younger sister sadly succumbed to it.
Fast forward a few short years later and Mickey Avalon’s career on the Hollywood club scene was jumpstarted at the behest of his friend and former MTV-VeeJay, Simon Rex. (Rex himself appears on Avalon’s album under his hip-hop nom de plume, Dirt Nasty.) Mining his own sordid personal history for material, Mickey Avalon became a seemingly overnight success and was ultimately saved by the redemptive powers of rap, rock, and pop.
Avalon’s lyrics carry a shock value to the listener while still sounding as if he’s conversing about something as commonplace as a pastrami on rye, discussing his sordid past and putting it on display with lines like “Mickey Avalon / The Kosher Salami / For 20 you get Chachi / But 40 gets you Fonzie”. Not limited to his own personal experiences as a male prostitute and drug addict, in addition to poking fun at himself with his lyrics, Avalon subtly digs away at the scene that has re-birthed him. “So Rich, So Pretty” is a tongue-in-cheek, man-on-the-party-scene ode to spoiled Paris Hilton-wannabes.
Not every track on the album is possessed of a swaggering sense of snark, however. The gritty narrative of street life debauchery “Roll the Dice” channels Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side”. Avalon’s account makes the worlds of rap and rock look decidedly staid by comparison with its harsh slice of reality that stands just outside of the doorstep of the glamorous L.A. club scene.
While most of the material on Mickey Avalon intertwines electronic dance with pop-rock and rap, several of the tracks are straight up hip-hop in the old school vein of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five with a touch of Snoop Dogg. Represented by “Hustler Hall of Fame” and “Roll Up Your Sleeves”, the tracks offer some variety but suffer from the lack of distinctive style present nearly everywhere else on the album.
Avalon’s memorably quirky and catchy lyrics are layered over bouncing dance beats that combine sparse drum tracks with simplistic guitar riffs. Buzzing synthesizers that supplement the rhythm section and a fuzzbox effect on the guitars contribute to something of a signature sound on the bulk of the album’s tracks. As a rapper and lyricist, Avalon is keenly aware of when to insert pauses of awkward silence for humorous and cadent effect.
Exemplary of Mickey Avalon’s addictively danceable stash of jams is the disc’s first single, “Jane Fonda”, a name-dropping ditty likening various sexual positions and partners to the aerobic workout video queen. Similarly, the self-deprecating humor of “Mr. Right” is a celebration of the truly trashy that flies in the face of the label-whoring pretentiousness with which it shares a common border. While the lovelies of Avalon’s club scene’s Louis Vuitton bags may not be fake, their silicone self-confidence and air of entitlement is. Beyond that, “Mr. Right” had me singing “Who’s that man in the black sedan / With two cheap hookers and a Mexican” for days on end.
In spite of a life tinted with tragedy, Mickey Avalon has fortunately turned his life around and breathed some new life into a tired genre, knocking down several borders in the process. While the new-school script tattoo above his crotch reads “thank you”, listeners will no doubt be thanking Mickey Avalon instead.