Sgt. Shonen's Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Request Mono Stereo by Redd Kross' side project Tater Totz (featuring members of Shonen Knife, Sonic Youth, White Flag and The Three O'Clock) might be the most self-indulgent inside-joke, indie-rock super-group album ever released were it not for the existence of The Velvet Monkey's faux-exploitation film soundtrack Rake.
It's tough to tell if this album is a Yoko Ono/Beatles tribute or parody. I doubt the MacDonald brothers and their friends know for sure, and I'm certain they wouldn't give a coherent answer if asked about it. Perhaps the Tater Totz are neither tribute nor parody, but rather belong to some unique post-modern genre occupied only by themselves and Ciccone Youth that only persons with PhDs in Comparative Literature are properly qualified to describe.
The title of the album alone suggests more pop-culture references than one would think possible: Sgt. Shonen's [Beatles, Shonen Knife] Exploding Plastic [Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, Pop Art] Eastman [Linda McCartney] Band Request [The Rolling Stone's Their Satanic Majesty's Request] Mono Stereo [60s pop culture and commercial packaging of music generally]. Then there's the album cover which mimics Help!, but replaces the Beatles with four Yokos. What does it all mean? Does it mean anything? Or does it completely mock the idea that pop music should mean anything at all?
The amusing mash-up of Ono's "Who Has Seen The Wind" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" suggests the Tater Totz are a band of merry pranksters having fun with the legacy of one of the most hated (and misunderstood) musicians of the 20th Century. But the other Yoko covers are fairly faithful and show the group to be well-versed in, and respectful of, Ono's avant-garde ideas. To make things even more confusing, they toss in a cover of The 1910 Fruitgum Company's bubblegum classic "1,2,3 Red Light." Perhaps this is some statement on unlikely symmetry between the avant-garde and the crassest elements of the pop music industry (consider for instance how Lou Reed got his start as a staff writer for Pickwick, or how the Talking Heads covered this song in their early live shows). Or maybe they just like the song, and there is nothing more to it than that.
Inarguably, the best music on the album is the two Os Mutantes songs featured as bonus tracks on the CD. These are not Os Mutantes covers, mind you, they are (uncredited) Os Mutantes performances that have been poorly transcribed from vinyl. I have no idea what to make of that, but I'm pretty sure it represents the first time any Os Mutantes music was released in the U.S., so Mono Stereo could be considered a landmark album for that reason alone.
In the end, the Tater Totz seem like a sincere attempt at a tribute from a group of artists to whom sincerity is an utterly foreign concept. I imagine Redd Kross' career interests would have been better served by focusing on their own releases, rather than on impenetrable releases like this and their hardcore tribute/parody band Anarchy 6. But then I'm not sure Redd Kross were capable of that kind of focus, and they wouldn't be quite who they are if they were. And the truth is Sgt. Shonen's Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Request Mono Stereo is sporadically entertaining even if it is ridiculously self-indulgent.