Music News

Negativland

With so many alter egos and in-jokes flooding Negativland's Universal Media Netweb (social critic Crosley Bendix, psychiatrist Dr. Oslo Norway and the smarmy Weatherman among them), keeping track of who's who is more of a nuisance than a necessity. Core member Richard Lyons sometimes bullies the pulpit in drag as Marsha Turnblat, a deep-voiced Christian stormtrooper unveiled during the band's True/False 2000 tour. Nearly two decades ago, he portrayed delusional radio personality Dick Vaughn, a would-be super-jock who "replaced" Negativland's Berkeley-based Over the Edge show with market-friendly music sanctioned by the suits of the hit-saturated California Superstation. Those fabled broadcasts eventually morphed into the country's very first '70s-nostalgia show, with Vaughn spewing wistfulness for dreck like Gilbert O'Sullivan and Commander Cody -- that is, until 1984, when his promising career ended in a fiery jetliner crash.

More than two and a half hours long, this edited two-CD package (originally a cassette-only release for SST in 1990) combines what the band deems to be the choicest moments from those bygone days. It's one long, meandering stop-gap vanity project, all right, full of off-air surveys, sketches and crank phone calls that will provide hardcore fans an intermittently amusing souvenir from the mid-to-late Reagan years. You'll learn about Pat Boone's milk intake, hear award-winning "ear-witness" news updates and take your best shot during the celebrity-wives quiz. You'll experience "everything from p-corn to pop-nuts," if sportscaster Roy Storey ever gets his way. Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking sideman Enrico leads Dick through a junkyard of found-sound artifacts (with more audio stock than even Ed Wood could have used), including several old-timey radio adverts, preserved in their entirety for the ages.

By the time Negativland announces the death of Caveman's Ringo Starr, the entire farce feels as dated as a leisure suit, which is probably the point. Surprisingly, Over the Edge -- still the longest-running block of free-form radio in radio history -- soldiers into its eighteenth year. But if the job of a culture jammer is simply to rehash "moribundity" (loosely translated here to mean nostalgic stagnation), then let the buyer beware. At least the proceeds will go toward the band's fair-use defense fund.

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John La Briola