[26 April 2009]
Pansy Division might be approaching the end of their second decade, but that doesn’t mean they’ve grown up. When they stormed the scene in the early 1990s, the band led by Jon Ginoli and Chris Freeman were absolutely revolutionary. One of the first openly gay mainstream rock bands, Pansy Division took the sound of punk icons like the Ramones and mixed it with wickedly funny, often explicit lyrics about gay life. But, thankfully, 20 years in the industry haven’t dulled their musical sharpness—or their libido—as That’s So Gay works very hard to prove.
With Queer as Folk long gone, The L Word dearly departed, and Sean Penn playing one of the Three Stooges instead of Harvey Milk, queer culture might not be on everyone’s mind right now. If Pansy Division wanted to change that, well, they’ve picked a clever way to go about it. So catchy they should come with a quarantine warning, tracks like “Some of My Best Friends” and “Never You Mind” get into your head and don’t leave. By the time you’ve picked up on the more outrageous lyrics, even the Larry Craigs in the crowd wouldn’t dare complain.
While Pansy Division aren’t exactly reinventing themselves here, they know how to play to their strengths. After all, they’re not Green Day (who they toured with in the mid-‘90s), and frankly, we wouldn’t want them to be. Instead of coming back with song suites and a swelled sense of self-importance, Pansy Division have stuck to what they know best: pop music. And if the three-chord, three-minute structure gets a little tiring, well, maybe you just don’t have the stamina. From the Dead Kennedys riffs on “Average Men” (thanks to a guest spot by Jello Biafra) to the punk revival sounds of “Dirty Young Man,” the entire album is musically vibrant and surprisingly aggressive. And that’s not even counting “Ride Baby”, a glossy Cheap Trick knockoff so perfect that it’s practically angelic. Or the wry “Just a Job”, which reflects on the ups and downs of dating a worker in the world’s oldest profession, all to the strains of mid-‘70s rock.
It’s not all fun and games, though, as the album’s title track deals with one of the most ubiquitous aspects of homophobia. Every 15-year-old boy who sneers “That’s so gay” is about to get a sharp wake-up call. Although frankly, most teenage boys listening to Pansy Division don’t really need one. That’s just another contradiction for the band, though: despite playing blistering punk and near-perfect pop, they still get classified as “queercore.” While they are undeniably (and proudly) a “queer” band, they’re still fighting the assumption that “straight kids” wouldn’t be into their music. And that’s a shame, because whatever label you throw at them, Pansy Division have got the hooks and the heart to appeal to anyone.
While the raunchier numbers (“20 Years of Cock”, “Pat Me on the Ass”) are good, not-so-clean fun, it’s the quieter moments that really hit home. Reminiscent of “serious album” Absurd Pop Song Romance, tracks like “What’s In It For Me” and “You’ll See Them Again” take on the ups and downs of love, regardless of orientation.
“We’re grown up now / Over the trauma / Of young lust / And teenage drama,” they sing on “Life Lovers.” Well, they’re certainly not teenagers anymore, but by staying naughty, giddy, and perfectly poppy, it’s clear that Pansy Division aren’t going anywhere.