By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Get in the Van Blarcum
The Shopping Sessions
Thrift Towne Records
On Thank God I'm Livin' in the U.S.A.!, Pump'n Ethyl's 1996 debut, singer Turner Van Blarcum lined up the whole world against the wall and mowed 'em down one by one with three-minute blasts of chainsaw guitar and spite-filled lyrics. His boss ("I Hate Work"), his past ("Heavy Metal Dickhead," referring to his stint as frontman for shite-metal act Sedition), even Jesus Christ ("Jesus Was a Homo")--nothing seemed to escape Van Blarcum's scorn. But he tempered his animosity with enough smart-assed humor that it was difficult to tell just how serious he was being. The songs were so tongue-in-cheek, it looked as though they were trying to smuggle softballs in their mouths, yet Van Blarcum delivered each one with the sincerity of a preacher.
The Shopping Sessions picks up where Pump'n Ethyl's debut left off, almost sounding like Thank God II. There are a few exceptions, though, especially "Rules are Made to be Broken," which disturbingly revisits Van Blarcum's past, sounding like a less-glam version of Mstley CrYe. For the most part, however, the album renews Van Blarcum's ham-fisted attacks on, among other things, the government ("What a Hoe," with its memorable chorus of "What a hoe / Janet Reno") and hippies (the truly hilarious "Fuckin Hippies Suck"). As on Thank God, you're not sure whether he's really that pissed off, or if he's just having fun provoking people, kind of like G.G. Allin without the bikini briefs and poo-poo. It's probably more of the latter, because a song like "Marshall Law" is so anti-everything it's hard not to think of it as a parody. Still, you can bet that Van Blarcum is the one who'll have the last--and loudest--laugh.
Polka my ears out
Riddle Me This?
The world's not big enough for two Brave Combos, especially when the knockoff smells like 1978's leftovers. But here's proof that what was a good idea 20 years ago still seems novel to folks whose idea of new is borrowing Santana's drummer. Concept: polkas ("No Beer Today," featuring Brave Combo's Carl Finch renting out the talent), generic surf's-up novelties ("Surf Tune," and no duh), ridiculous hard-rock covers (in this case, "Breaking the Law," which ought to be illegal), and other passing ethnic references ("Macbar Techno," "La Llorona"). Execution: miserable, mostly because Denton's (of course) Riddle Me This?--Eric Keyes, Paul Schmaus, and Dave Berkson--seem to think silly's just another name for competence. (Gee, ain't we wacky?) But lookie here, fellas: No amount of lunatic shtick can cover for the fact that this "record" is just an amalgam of half-assed ideas and half-absorbed concepts. The rockers don't rock, the polkas don't swing, and the rest of the disc is too cute by half. Get some songs. Or better yet, get Musical Varieties.
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