Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic

Mass Romantic (2000) ****

An alleged "supergroup" led by principals Colin Newman (of Zumpano, whom I've heard precisely one song on a power pop compilation from), Dan Bejar (of Destroyer, whom I've never heard), Neko Case (whose alt.country records I've never heard, but I've seen several racy photos of her on the internet), and some other people from shitty little indie-rock bands no one outside of Moosejaw, Saskatchewan has ever heard (I'm assuming here), the New Pornographers do not peddle the cheesy soft-disco bubble-funk instrumentals set to the sound of a lonely housewife and appliance repair man moaning, as you'd naturally expect from their name.  No, this is bubblegummy indie-rock, an infectious, '70s glammy stomp that recalls the best of Sweet and Wizzard, very very featherlite and very very very catchy as genital herpes, but with sleek modernized guitar tones.  The Achilles' heel is beyond obvious after one exhausting listen (even at 41 minutes, this seems to go on forever):  their ABBA-meets-the-Ramones power pop formula gets real wearying real fast because, same as same as same as the Ramones, everything all sounds the same.  The tunes are all relentlessly upbeat and saccharine, with zero emotional heft, and the guitar tone never, ever changes.  Some of the songs are better than others ("Letter From an Occupant) and some worse ("Breakin' the Law"), and in small doses of three or four of these twisty-turny songs, it's a sugar rush, but you know how quickly sugar highs leave you queasily hungover.  Whichever New Pornographers album you prefer thus entirely depends on which one you heard first.  Nearly every other critic in the world prefers this debut to all the other albums since this was the Porno's first, but I personally prefer their second album because that was my first exposure to the wonderful world of Canadian pornography.

A song-by-song review therefore is as unnecessary as a year-by-year Playmate review, but let's get it on, babe.  The title track celebrates the mass wedding of thousands of couples in South Korea in a giant ceremony by Sun Myung Yung's Unification Church.  "The Fake Headlines" excoriates Fox News, Al Jazeera, Pravda, the National Enquirer, and the North Korean national news service.  "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," is a spoken-word piece cobbled together from the poetry of Charles Bukowski.  "Mystery Hours" concerns the legendary missing minutes of time that got misplaced when the Catholic Church switched over from the Julian to Gregorian calendar.  "Jackie" on first glance is a cutesy-retro mash-note to Jackie Onassis, until you listen to the lyrics and realize that Dan Bejar is singing about raiding the Kennedy masoleum, disinterring her corpse, and having his wicked way with her cold, dead bones.  "Letter From an Occupant," is a social protest number in solidarity with postal workers' unions.  "To Wild Homes," is an autobiographical tale of Newman's raising as an abandoned orphan by wild meese in the northern Yukon province.  "The Body Says No," is a bitter lament about a thwarted date rape, sung sympathetically from the point of view of the attempted date rapist.  "Dad wouldn't you believe, she didn't need me!"  "Execution Day," is yet another rock song about Gary Gilmore.  "Centre for Holy Wars," (sic; get these ignorant Canucks a spellchecker) is a prescient warning released an entire year before 9/11, which not only eerily predicts the Twin Towers' demise but calls Mohammed Atta and Bin Laden out by name.  "The Mary Martin Show," tells the true story of a Montreal children's show host convicted of pedophilia and assassinated by Quebecois separatist extremists.  And finally, "Breakin' the Law," is indeed a cover of the Judas Priest classic, complete with cameo vocals from Rob Halford himself, who thoughtfully includes a rap break in the middle to keep with the times, hangin' tough like it's 1989.

But don't turn the album off just yet.  If you let the CD continue to play, over half an hour later comes the secret hidden bonus track, which in keeping with the beastiality and Canadian pride themes of the disc, consists of the moanings and gruntings of a beaver being screwed by a moose.  And by beaver, I do not refer to the slang term for a female vagina, but the North American mammal species, that apparently looks like this: 

That's one of the photos that showed up on the first page of my Google image search for beaver, and yes, I had the moderate filter settings on.

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