Monday, August 28, 2006

Christmas

Christmas is a horrible name for a band. Try googling "christmas," and see how many hits related to the band you get. Beyond failing to anticipate the information superhighway when they formed back in the early 80s, Christmas made a number of career mistakes; signing to a major label well before they were ready, choosing the RCA distributed Big Time Records as that major label (a mistake shared by a lot of other good bands), making music no one really "got," etc. So it's not surprising that they eventually decided to chuck the whole thing and reinvent themselves as psuedo-lounge-lizards in Combustible Edison.

I was going to put up a song from Christmas' first single, but since pretty much everything by Christmas is obscure and out-of-print, I decided to put up a couple tracks from what I consider to be something of a forgotten masterpiece, their 1989 album Ultra Prophets of Thee Psykick Revolution.

All Music Guide says this album received largely negative reviews at the time of its release. I don't remember that. I do remember that it was one of my favorite albums of 1989, and I played it a lot. Listening to it again today, each of the songs is still instantly recognizable to me.

But I can understand why critics didn't "get" this album, as it is pretty hard to pigeonhole. On the surface it sounds much like the goofy, retro music that Redd Kross were doing on Third Eye around the same time, with maybe a little less bubblegum and a little more psychedelia added to the mix. But at the same time the album is shot through with extremely disturbing imagery; cannibalism, unstoppable killer viruses, penguin slaughters, domestic violence, war, apocalypse, etc. So while there is no doubt the band had a sense of humor, it certainly wasn't of the "ha, ha" funny variety, it's more in the absurdist/surrealist vein.

I interviewed the band while they were touring in support of the album and I can tell you for a fact they didn't do themselves any favors in terms of being understood. Their pose was so deeply ironic and they seemed so enamored with their own inauthenticity that it was all but impossible for an outsider to get in. For example, the album featured what I would consider a fairly serious song about the spread of AIDS called "Human Chain." But when I asked them about it they started making stupid jokes about sex and ketchup, and giving advice like "Don't have sex without a condiment!" They talked a lot about wanting to move to Vegas, which from what I remember they seemed to regard as a kind of cosmic holy place. The one thing they clearly didn't want to talk about was the music they were supposedly trying to promote. On one level this was a perfectly friendly, albiet goofy, group of people joking around and having fun, but there was a subtle kind of elitist defiance in these gestures; the implicit message seemed to be "Either you get us, or you don't, but we're not going to sully ourselves by explaining what we actually think."

Anyway, I still think it's a terrific album that holds up pretty well. Here are two of my favorite cuts. The first "Stupid Kids" is just a flat-out great pop song. The second, "Richard Nixon" pretty much gives full expression to the goofy/disturbing dichotomy in their music. While the premise, Richard Nixon as some kind of 1,000 year-old monster with supernatural powers, is goofy, the disturbing image of Whitehouse backyard baby barbeques sticks with you. And like the cover of Funkadelic's "America Eats It's Young" it speaks to a greater truth about the callousness of those in power who would send teenagers off to fight and die in wars in which they end up killing children.

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