[13 August 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Turbonegro, arguably the best fat gay Norwegian punk metal band in the world today, has also become one of the most reliable, entertaining acts in hard rock, but if there was one thing that had their legions of Turbojugend concerned, it was that the music was starting to sound more and more diluted with every album. After the 2003 reissues of the punk rock classic Ass Cobra and 1998’s demented metal-tinged masterpiece Apocalypse Dudes, Turbonegro’s much-heralded comeback album Scandinavian Leather started to downplay the outrageousness in favor of contagious rawk hooks and ultra-slick production, and by the time 2005’s Party Animals came out, the shock and schlock was a mere afterthought. Like Billion Dollar Babies compared to Love It to Death, or The Last Command compared to W.A.S.P., Party Animals eschewed the sex and violence in favor of simpler, more straightforward party tunes, and while the reason that album worked was due primarily to the inspired glam rock riffery of underrated lead guitarist Euroboy (“Blow Me (Like the Wind)” rivaled anything off Hanoi Rocks’ Two Steps From the Move), the flamboyant presence of facepainted vocalist Hank von Helvete was downplayed to the point where we couldn’t help but think if the denim demon himself was getting a bit faded with age.
Any fear that Turbonegro was losing its edge has been assuaged, though, thanks to Retox, a tremendous return to form by the sex-obsessed sextet. Not only does the band claim “We’re Gonna Drop the Atom Bomb” at the beginning of the album, but this time around, they sound like they mean it, the opening cut brimming with the kind of energy and ferocity the last two albums lacked. Von Helvete manages to reflect the current state of the world on “Do You Do You Dig Destruction?”, quipping, “Demolition’s coming back in vogue… War is knocking on your front door,” as Euroboy lets loose ragged, scorching lead fills reminiscent of the Stooges’ Ron Asheton. The band’s long dormant punk influence comes roaring back with a vengeance on such tunes as the frantic “Welcome to the Garbage Dump”, “No, I’m Alpha Male”, and “Boys From Nowhere”, while von Helvete’s notorious, hilarious double entendres dominate such tracks as “Stroke the Shaft”, “I Wanna Come”, and “Hot and Filthy”.
One of the best things about Turbonegro is how they can play some blistering rock ‘n’ roll, yet at the same time remain grounded by their tremendous sense of humor. “Everybody Loves a Chubby Dude” is as endearing as its title implies, von Helvete sneering over an ‘80s metal backdrop, “Take it up with my expanding leather, this painted boy’s gonna eat forever,” and lampooning Jim Morrison at the song’s conclusion: “I am the Lizard King, I can eat anything.” Even better is the brilliantly titled “Hell Toupee”, as hilarious an ode to receding hairlines that’s ever been written, von Helvete contemplating life as a 35-year-old rock singer with male pattern baldness: “Other day I was doin’ the bump, then I found myself takin’ a dump / It gave me time to contemplate the state of my hair and its terrible fate / Spent my life fightin’ off the pigs, drinkin’ beer and smokin’ cigs / Stealin’ riffs and blowin’ gigs, but now I’m stuck googlin’ for wigs.”
Von Helvete’s wit and the band’s musical muscle gel perfectly on the album closer “What is Rock?” an ambitious, nearly eight-minute long prog/punk/metal suite that will remind many of Canadian greats Fucked Up, easily the best Turbonegro song since Apocalypse Dudes. Essentially three song fragments crammed together (hell, that’s what most prog metal is, anyway), von Helvete begins by offering some fantastic, vividly surreal impressions of what true rock is (“Rock is the possibility of choking on your own vomit in the back of a rapists van… Denim clad satanists making love in the sewers of Burmingham during Maggie Thatcher’s prime”), adding facetiously, “No I’m not talking about Canadian producer and 5th Metallica Bob Rock, you fool!” After a mellow middle section during which he espouses the virtues of life on the road with his band and crew, von Helvete attempts to come up with a serious answer to the question posed in the song title. “What are we doin’ here? What’s important in life?” he muses. “My generation? My wife?... I don’t care!” The song builds to a climax, carried by Euroboy’s punk-fueled, downstroked chords, and Hank has an epiphany, suddenly realizing what’s most important about rock ‘n’ roll, and he howls it out triumphantly as the song fades out: “The money, the money, the money, money, money!” This is the Turbonegro we know and love, and it’s great to see them back in peak form.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/turbonegro-retox/