Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's a Soda Pop Sting! or Justifying the Soda Pop Kids

I know it's hard, but you shouldn't read anybody else's record reviews, just mine. Because with anyone else, there is a great chance that they are wrong, but with my reviews, you get the added advantage of them always being right! FOR INSTANCE - I just read a so-called review of the Soda Pop Kids' Teen Bop Dream on the so-called punknews.org or whatever, that, while un-flattering, simply painted a picture of the author's ignorance and poor taste. I recently used the Kids' as an example of what not to do, sure, but that was to educated and sensitive rock and roll fan readers, not the punk-less idiots over at said site. SO, now what happens, is I get to tell you why the Soda Pop Kids' as exemplified by Teen Bop Dream are one of the few bands you should be listening to who are currently making music.

First off, this is a crazy America that we live in today, where having balls is viewed as passe. Hence, most "alpha dogs" in the underground are marked as emaciated, dour, unfriendly, and lame. And their music reflects this. Bo Diddly and Handsome Dick are bores, unconsidered and completely other to everything that is popular... that is, on the street and on the tv, oddly enough. So, a lot of opinions and reviews of current music in this sweeping homogeneous mass consciousness that is misidentified as an underground come from this mindset, where it is uncool to be able to self-regulate your own mental disturbances, have a stiff upper lip and be able to take a fucking punch!

Now, I never wanna be a "man," like a grown-up cat that works the nine to five and does what he has to do to maintain the Status Quo, but I am however 500% man, all man and mean-meat, baby! And as such, so is my music, The Ramones! The New York Dolls! Now, any writer that would paint the New York Dolls in a overtly negative light, and rather flatly, I might add, by the transitive property, is not one whose taste matters to us. The dope types, "the song segues into bluesy glam rock of the Dolls variety, complete with rock’n’roll piano, mediocre solos, and Johansen-y off-key vocals. Not a great song." After criticizing the record as derivative of both the Dolls and the Exploding Hearts, which the author does admit are BIG shoes to fill, he ends with the real zinger, "the Soda Pop Kids just need a little less "Throwaway Style," and a lot more substance," in reference to the Hearts' tune. Well I can only imagine what this dude's idea of substance is... though he's obviously a big Crass fan. I will say that he was crisp and non-personal in his panning, a real pro. Anyway, throwaway style is just as throwaway as junk culture is junk.

The first song is called "Saturday Every Day" with is either inspired by or derivative of the Dictator's regal declaration, depending on if you like the tune or not (and if you've listened to the Dictators!). I do, starting with either little kids or the band's girlfriend's chanting of the title line. I believe that the Kid's are in that state of sincere consciousness, where they are doing everything for a reason, but they are doing it well. The song is mainly about how life sucks and is harsh but you can dance it up later on... now this is good stuff, but I have heard it done more inspirationally... and universally, as I do not yet buy what the Kids' idea of a good time might be. I think I might be able to have a better time, my way. As the song progresses, they verge a little to far into the conscious side and away from the sincerity. Maybe they just need to think about it a little less and be a little sloppier.

Hmm... now, I do agree with my fellow journalist that the record kicks it in with track number two, "I Fell In Love at The Arcade" in which they make all the right moves. The title does speak for itself, having a good time with a sexy lass amongst the pinball and Pac-Man references, blissfully rotting all our brains, the right way. Now, this is great, but really, Ms. Pac-Man is the preferred reference in any situation. These days in Delaware, the only Arcades are down at the Boardwalk in Rehobeth, but back in the day, the hot Arcades included "Aladdin's Castle" and the Concord Mall's own "Space Port," oh, and they used to allow smoking at the mall, kids! As a wee tyke I mastered such games as "Moon Patrol," "Pole Position," and "Bride of Pinbot." He sings, "Did I mention they got Burger Time? Well, it's Burger Time all the time!" And that is what I call substance! See, two VERY important things in rock and roll are cheeseburgers and soda pop. That is iconic, baby. Plus the piano playing is great and it's twelve bar blues with funny and true lyrics, and it's fast. It should be a top ten hit single.

They keep it going strong with "The Terrestrial Twist" about an alien who comes to Earth and teaches him and the human race how to boogie like a spaceman. He's just trying to get back to his baby when the outer-space dude abducts him, does some tests and decides that Earth Men are ready to know the moves, so he teaches the singer how to shake it down and sends him back down planet-side. He, of course does the responsible thing and teaches the Terrestrial Twist to the world, as best as he can remember, of course. This is a great fucking song and is derivative of nothing save for maybe Moral Crux's "Psychotic Neurotic" and by all means, derive away. Them same little kid/girls are back and singing back-up "yeah yeah, all right, twistin' to-nite." Actually, they're playing with and rearranging alot of early roots rock and roll tricks, but in such a way that it is just barely recognizable as such, it's skillfully rendered and well done, with the best lead guitar lines on the record, and it's about alium shimmee-shake. Yeah, perhaps most importantly, it deals with another iconic rock and roll scenario: aliens and space travel. Other such iconic scenarios include: the jungle, the wild west, down on the farm, city street back alleys, school, the soda shoppe, etc... Perhaps a good rock and roll technique for or even trademark of it's true believers is a healthy skepticism in the line between realities. Maybe it's a self-esteem issue, that maybe one would like oneself better if one were an ape-man, a space ace, back in high school, etc... But the rock and roller will tell you that he actually already is an ape-man, and he is.

The next song, "Well Well Well" starts out with the singer, by the psuedo-name of Jonny P. Jewels, (kinda like the Television song, or TV as I call them), whose voice is crazy. He has this controlled vocal crack and puts on like a dance hall emcee from the fifties, or maybe a game show host, or maybe how Batman's nemesis, the Joker, might sing, if he were in a rave-up white boy rhythm and blues band. While this beginning, where the singer just howls "well" a bunch of times, comes on closer to that conscious side I was talkin' 'bout, the Kids finally come out and say they don't care about criticisms on their character or their intentions with the chorus, "White Belts! Everything's so heart felt. Ain't got no time for acoustic recluse, when you just gotta, just gotta cut loose." White belts, in this day and age, a symbol of hipsterism, an accusation which I can only assume gets tossed at these guys a lot due to their look... pure Exploding Hearts, Gay-Wave mullet, eighties metal (NEVER GOOD), flashy striped suits. I think when people in bands do themselves up like that, they are thinking Johnny Thunders, but come on, no one should minstrel show Johnny up, ok. But right away they spit it out, that everything's so heartfelt, and you can tell it is. Hipsters do not play music like this. Also great about this track is the chant "1-2-3-4, close the door hit the floor!" where you can finally really make out backing vocals by Tony of the Riffs, who joined the band when they moved from Denver to Portland, power-pop capital of America.

"Another Cigarette Ends" is an almost-there ballad that has good lyrics and builds to a pretty good climax, and has a really nice talking breakdown in the middle. I think it fits in and works with the album, but as anybody'll tell ya, I prefer the fast stuff. Conversely, the next song, "Too Pretty," has an extended slow building intro which I love, primarily on a very glam sounding keyboard and vocals, painting a picture of a rock and roll kid falling in love at the malt shop with the honey pouring the beverines, having a "real cool time" with her after she gets off work, just like Iggy and the boys, and then it kicks in, explaining the whole sitch as "too pretty" not serious or lasting, but valid, important, and perhaps the shadow imprints itself on yer psyche to make you feel good later, even when you aren't. They ask us to "tell me what's wrong with just a little kiss?" Then a half note pause, a soda can opening and the singer giving a refreshing, "ahh!" Next up is "Six Gun Senorita" in which the Soda Pop Kids venture to the American Southwest to tell the story of this Femme Fatale... this is a pretty good number with flamenco feigns and staccato guitar hammering, but right now I am pretty turned off of all that Mexican shit. I love Mexican culture in general, and I love my Hispanic buddies, but that music is pure Lawrence Welk. For instance, my band recently played with this touring band called Polka Madre outta New Mexico, and the first number they played gave me high hopes, almost like a speed soul number. The band had full Mexican keyboards, clarinet and drums. The clarinet dude, who straight smelled like a fine crock pot fulla chili, in the first number, played his wind instrument like it was brass, blowing sax riffs over the speeding dynamic number. The drummer was the highlight throughout, playing matchstick and killing it, his Mexican Man-Boobs bouncing nicely. The guitarist and bassist were Spanish speaking Angloids. Anyway, after this first number, the band preceded to play nearly an hour of horrible, boring bar-mitzvah reject numbers. Clarinets suck. What's worse they kept threatening to leave if we (the audience) didn't dance, but even when we didn't dance they kept playing. Certain dorks in the scene (yes, there are dorks in Wilmington too) even chanted for an encore of this trash, extending the torture.

Oh, the story doesn't end there! The show was at the 700 Club, ran by the venerable Mr. Tom von Count, a true dude in anyone's eyes, and if you say different, come say it to me and we'll see what happens. After the show was over the Polka Madres were crashing at the Club, which in their eyes meant locking themselves in the only bathroom for over an hour of blowing coke and having gay butt sex. Well, people need to use the bathroom, and these freaks refused to open the door, so Tommy kicked it in to find the cocaine laden misanthropes sodomizin' all over the place. He chased 'em all out with his baseball bat, but needn't land any blows, unfortunately. I don't need to tell you that it had nothin' to do with the fact that it was two dudes, it had to do with the fact that it was two delusional, self-absorbed, inconsiderate dudes. Wilmington and the 700 Club don't give a fuck who has sex with who. Ironically, I had just read the Lester Bangs article entitled, "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies" in which he tacitly advises the reader to always be wary of Gypsies and their ways, because they deal in trickery, but you can't trick a Louisville Slugger, or a fine aluminum Easton. While being chased out, these people had the gall to inform Tom that he is too conservative and shouldn't have shows. Fucking coke-head logic. Cocaine is one of the tools of the White Man used to keep us down, and you do it yerself, great job Phil Collins... you are conservative, Tom is forward thinking and pragmatic. P.S. - being a fag these days has nothing to do with sexual orientation, but they are fags.

Ahh, just what I need after that, next comes the beautiful rock-a-billy cover of the String Kings' "Don't Roll Them Bloodshot Eyes at Me." You probably remember this one, about the trials and tribulations of dating a fucking drunk-ass bitch who also dates dudes who smack her around, and having absolutely no sympathy... terrific! Punknews.dork guy dissed out the sax player pretty hard, but fuck him! Any band that has piano and sax and tries that hard... it's actually against the grain. Rock and roll is not the forbidden music of the fifties, with parents disallowing it... it's forbidden to be that cool, people just spouting negative opinions about derivation and reproduction and people for some reason listen and it becomes a dogma. Open your eyes and mind and if you still want drop-F tuning and sludge and atonal slurm, then we can't help ya, see ya in hell. Best lines, "Your eyes look like a road map, and I'm scared to smell your breathe. Honey, you better shut those peepers, or your gonna bleed to death!"

The penultimate number is called "The Ballad of Ranch Hand Riviera," but don't worry, there is nary a flamenco beat anywhere... by the way, if your thinking flamenco, go Mambo, you'll thank me ("Private World"!) This number has a cowboy feel, and every good band should have a cowboy song, but this one just pales in comparison to the Potatomen, "Jimmy Was a Cowboy" which tells a clearer and better story about a cowboy who transported coke into America for the love of his Sweet Precious Jane, only to get busted by federalies and lose Jane to a drug-lord. See? That's what happens!

OKAY! Finally, the coup de gras of the record, the band, the year, maybe the decade. The final number is called "The Soda Pop Sting" and hits more real life ins and outs than any other song on the record, even "Terrestrial Twist." This song is about kids' whose schools have outlawed selling soda pop in the hallways and cafetoriums, and it works as a really good analogy for rock and roll. Imagine getting into school and the only thing that'll save your life is sweet, carbonated, caffeinated PEPSI FUCKING COLA, but they ain't there no mo' because idiot-asshole parents misidentified their fat-ass kid's obesity and poor health as the fault of scape goat soda drinking, and not the government's subsidizing of corn farmers to produce more and more and more corn and high-fructose corn syrup and their own lax parenting abilities. (Mexican music is trash, but their soda is PURE CANE!) "Well you can't take away my right to chose! When pleasures in jail you got nothing to lose." We are rock and roll, soda pop desperados! "GIMMEE GIMMEE BACK, ALL MY SODA BACK! GIMMEE GIMMEE BACK, OR WE'LL TAKE IT BACK!" The song is uber pop-punk with several different parts, all which rock, a real pop-epic, complete with mini-piano, and ends with the same high-pitched choir telling us that it's a "Soda Pop Sting," sounding like a mix of Screeching Weasel and Plow United, the Kids have at this point achieved being completely serious without taking themselves seriously.

What this song is really about... This is it: being misidentified and underestimated, that's what happens to us. Rock and roll is weirdly dangerous today. Not bad enough to throw you in jail, but they WILL give you a ticket, and you don't have the money to pay it. Even I'm not wide-eyed in the face of it... maybe I've seen too much behind the scenes action. I make my own rock and roll, of course, and am very proud of it and understand what I have done, but it's like the cheese sandwich you make yourself. It may be the best fucking cheese sandwich that's been made since 1998, or 1976, or 1952, but it just isn't the same as the one from the school lunch line. I'm a rock and roll fan. I want the Ramones, I want Plow United, I want something new...

The album (released on Full Breach Kicks Records, by the way) cover is line-less pastel and neon overlap of the boys posing at the soda counter with digitally added bubblegum bubbles and their dumb haircuts. The band name is in script and the album title in the fashion of a teenage girl mag like Tiger Beat. It is pretty and somewhat engaging, but I need some kind of edge, ya know? Well, I don't need the Soda Pop Kids to look as cool as me. They've already done enough. They are sentimental and smart and seem to be getting better all the time. I mean, c'mon, they're a punk rock band, just listen to 'em!! The songs are all very original, but come from a very good place... the only good place? Where the kids are gonna stay all hopped up, where we're very bad, but innocent, where you can come out the other side of a personality crisis better for it. My sympathies to those who have never been there.

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