Die for the Government
(New Red Archives)
Punk nostalgia right down to the fake Limey accents. I take it about as seriously as I take Sha Na Na. Musicianship: D-minus. Originality: F. Listening pleasure: F.
This is one of those rare CDs whose cover tells the whole story. Cheer Up's glossy cardboard fold-out sleeve features photographs of three made-up, tattooed guys (presumably band members Michael Angelos, Norm Block and Michael Barragan) posing before a large bathroom mirror in the way most of us did when we were around seventeen. They seem absolutely entranced with themselves and their rock-star postures--so much so that these snaps would make a great jumping-off point for a discussion of style versus substance, if only there were some substance in the equation. But alas, no. Sub Pop claims that these guys blend "glam, goth, punk, metal and psychedelic influences," but to these ears, the disc sounds more like one of those "alternative samplers" Taco Bell used to slap together to draw the kiddie crowd into its evil PepsiCo empire. Not to say that Plexi can't handle the diversity. Anyone with a gift for mimicry can do that, and Plexi gets some tough sounds out of its power-trio lineup, from the stutter-rhythmed, power-chorded anthem that opens the disc (no song titles on the package) to the Big Star ripoff that closes it twelve tracks later. You may even find yourself humming along to some of the better-executed of these second-generation audio Xeroxes. But you'll search in vain, as the boys on the cover seem to be doing, for any sign of a distinct personality or a particular point of view other than "Look! We can do this too!" Then again, maybe I'm being too harsh. There is one memorable line on that first song, wherein Angelos builds his musings around the line "And I wonder what it's like to die..." Hey, can someone help this guy out?
Imagine Axl Rose and Janis Joplin with their mouths packed with pebbles as they attempt to imitate Demosthenes, the famed Athenian orator, and you'll have an idea how Jennifer Hagerty and her ax-wielding hubby, Neil, sound on this CD. Whereas the duo and their various Royal Trux cohorts once specialized in rock-tune deconstruction, they now seem hell-bent on dredging up Seventies excess. It's as if they decided to combine the worst blues boogie imaginable with outtakes from the last session by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In the past, the players have excelled at sludge-packed bell-bottom feedback, but on Sweet Sixteen, they veer off into a melange of nocturnal emissions characterized by too many wah-wah guitar solos and effects that should have been buried with Their Satanic Majesties Request. A heaping helping of sleaze prevents the disc from being a total disaster, and "Pol Pot Pie" gets my vote as best song title of the year so far. But quite frankly, the Hagertys were a lot more entertaining when they were allegedly doing heavy drugs. After listening to this hangover inducer, Foghat never sounded so good.
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