“Grown-ass man with a dumbass name,” says Juiceboxxx on “Guts and Tension”, about halfway through his latest effort Freaked Out American Loser, and you can’t help but think: At least he’s self-aware.
Freaked Out American Loser is a quick blast, not all that much more than 20 minutes in length, during which Juiceboxxx rhymes, screams, and rhyme-screams his way through a hip-hop-‘n’-roll barrage of beats and electric guitars that’s not all that far from the Beastie Boys’ most punk moments. The Beastie Boys are the most immediate point of reference in a number of ways, actually, from a delivery that hovers somewhere between Ad-Rock and Mike D to a predilection for talking to himself. If you try really, really hard, and maybe pay attention to something else while it’s on in the background, you could almost convince yourself that Freaked Out American Loser is a new Beasties album.
To be clear, it is very much not a Beasties album, both in quality and in content. That said, its merits are worth pointing out.
For one: Juiceboxxx can actually rap a little. Opener “Freaking Out” is non-stop forward movement, and the flow that Juiceboxxx establishes is tight and arresting, and urgent. There’s a good beat behind all that rapping, too, and it seems an obvious choice to be the album’s hit single, at least compared to the other eight tunes here. That said, it also establishes one of his crutches: Juiceboxxx is not afraid to use the word “motherfucker” (or, perhaps most commonly, its variant “motherfucking”) when he’s looking for a way to fill in four syllables. Over and over and over again, motherfucking this and motherfucking that, and suddenly, even in one of the album’s standouts, you’re thinking that Juiceboxxx’s ability to command the language might be a bit lacking. Even so, his rhythmic sensibility is on point, and it’s enough to drive him through such a short album.
In addition, the sheer brevity of the album — and, crucially, the individual tracks — works in its favor. Not every idea works, but it’s easy to live with a lousy song when it’s going to end in two minutes. Example: “Go to the Club Alone” is about as phoned-in as Juiceboxxx gets, his deadpan delivery never quite working with the instrumentation behind him. “Destruction and Redemption” follows it, and taken on its own, it’s no better — it’s something like Dead Kennedys at their fastest, without any of the charisma or humor that Jello Biafra brought to the sound. That said, by putting the two back-to-back, and making sure neither is longer than two-and-a-half minutes, Juiceboxxx ensures that his weakest moments still serve the album as a whole, adding texture through variety rather than insisting on sticking with a consistent sound.
Juiceboxxx gets a lot of mileage out of the idea of a “freak out” throughout the album. There’s the title of the album, there’s the opener (“Freaking Out”), the refrain of “Destruction and Redemption” (“Destruction, Redemption, Freak out is neverending”), there’s the closer and the title track, and there are countless thrown-off lines that reference the same idea. Even when he’s not being explicit with his wording, it’s clear that Juiceboxxx’s preferred identity is that of the outsider, someone whose worldview is dark and skewed, someone who embraces the wild and odd.
“P-B-D in the H-E-D” he chants in “Permanent Brain Damage”, both giving the title a cute acronym and offering a self-diagnosis that’s less lament and more mission statement. By the time he gets to the weird, near-Joy Division post-rock of that title track, Juiceboxxx has cemented a self-portrait of maybe the most energetic and gregarious loner “freak” ever to put an album on tape.
He’s not the best rapper. He’s not the best rocker. That said, Juiceboxxx isn’t terrible at either, and if there’s one thing, he is good at, it’s the urgent sort of sincerity that flips a little album like this one from an odd, unfunny joke into something actually kind of enjoyable. It’s a fine blast of energy that’ll either put a smile on your face or annoy the hell out of you. One gets the impression that Juiceboxxx himself might be happy with either result.