By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The joke's on you
Thank God I'm Livin' in the U.S.A.!
There's nothing Turner Van Blarcum isn't pissed off about. He's getting hammered by minimum wage ("it's the latest crime wave"), the IRS is out to take what little money he does pocket ("they're after you/they're after me"), drugs and drink don't do much for him anymore, religion turns him off but chicks in leather get him off, Prozac is for folks too lazy to love themselves, and techno music is his disco nightmare. Here's a man who manages to slam dance on the line separating punk and parody with such spastic grace you can't tell if he's serious or joking and don't much care one way or the other. He's got a point--and he's gonna use it, even if it's to kick Kurt Cobain's dead body one more time.
Everything about this band is an exaggeration, a clichŽ blown up into a caricature blown up into a soft-porn cartoon. Here's a punk band fronted by an ex-metal boy (Van Blarcum was once frontman for Sedition, God help him) and three guys who look like refugees from the world of R. Crumb; even the cover, with a drawing of Van Blarcum's tattooed and mohawked head covered in bloody thorns, suggests subtlety is for lesser and weaker men. And the sound is punk at its most basic, antigovernment and antireligious aphorisms spat over deceptively rudimentary chords and a beat with a fat back.
This is comic-book stuff, but what makes it stick to the wall is that this doesn't wear off after the grin fades and the shock passes. "Jesus Was a Homo" is a fine enough pop-punk song, with a good riff or two and a catchy beat; its lyrics--"Jesus was a bitch/Jesus was a punk/Jesus was strung out on junk because Jesus was a homo"--are just there to incite, inflame, and get under the skin until it burns like a rash. It's bullshit, and Van Blarcum knows it--idiot words strung together to give the music extra punch, the rantings of an insane man standing on the corner and trying to get anyone to pay attention for just a few seconds.
The government-conspiracy songs are so tongue-in-cheek Van Blarcum manages to French-kiss himself, the rehabbed alcoholic songs are cautionary tales at worst, and everything in between promises love with a Barbie doll and a beer with the devil. But it's the simple things that make Pump'n Ethyl work: "I Hate Work" wouldn't have sounded so out-of-place on a Descendents record, because it doesn't have to overstate the point to make the case. Van Blarcum hates his boss because his boss hates him, and he can't pay his rent because he's never gotten a raise. And "Heavy Metal Dickhead" offers apologies for past indiscretions, even as "Everybody Loves Somebody" hints at a Dean Martin future.