Friday, April 1, 2011

Plurg: Sex Panic III

This is the 11th studio album from Finnish-Australian-African-American Folk-Blues-Metal octet Plurg in 4 years, and their 13th overall, following a 6-year break largely motivated by grief over the death of Ronald Reagan. One can't help but sense creeping burnout to Plurg's chief songwriter, vocalist Rikard DiCole. This is an imperfect album, unfocused and overly clean-sounding. However, it's also a landmark, watershed moment in music, the likes of which come around maybe once in a lifetime. If their previous album, Vagina Terrorist, was Plurg's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, this is most definitely their White Album, as well as their London Calling, their My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, their Loveless, their Get the Knack, their My World 2.0 and their Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. It's like if Radiohead forgot how to be Radiohead and instead was a Madonna tribute band. It's a revolution in music, a towering achievement. At 56 tracks, it may seem daunting, but about a dozen of those are under a minute long, and one track named on the CD jacket does not even appear on the album, throwing the entire track list out of order.

For the most part, themes of sex and mindless violence continue to dominate the album, as with previous Plurg outings, although DiCole does bring back some of the existential yearnings of Sex Panic II without forgetting the pop sensibility that defined the original Sex Panic and its follow-up, The Strange Case of Black Dakota Fanning!!. By and large, they stick to their original "Reba McEntire meets Deep Purple" sound that has defined them, except when they deviate from that style, which is most if not all of the time.

The first single, "Dainty Things," written from the perspective of a well-used pair of panties, chronicles the joy of a new relationship after one thinks one has forgotten love. It's haunting in its way, as is "Killer Inside You," wherein DiCole refers to himself as the Killer. More fun than that is the playground stomp of "School Bus Ride," an autobiographical track describing DiCole's first sexual experience. DiCole also proves himself a first class imitator, as he sounds more or less exactly like Frank Sinatra getting a blowjob on "Frank Sinatra Gets a Blowjob." But the first climax of the album is most definitely the Queen plus Coldplay divided by Dexy's Midnight Runners sound of "Basement Dweller," where the singer recalls the story of how he seduced the girlfriend of a guy who writes for a music blog. But the joke's on him because I didn't like her that much anyway. Skank.

DiCole waxes poetic on "Bechdel Test," the groundbreakingly misogynistic eighth track, featuring Sarah McLachlan on harmony vocals. The album also features a trio of covers: their nihilistic take on The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" sounds like the Rankin Family being waterboarded, and a gender-flipped version of "Leader of the Pack," which includes a rewrite: like most Plurg songs, it contains a graphically-described sex scene at the end. And their Nickelback-esque take on the theme song to Boy Meets World is every music critic's holy grail: that rare mix of toughness and vulnerability that says to the world: "Here I am."

Let it never be said, however, that the band is not inventive. The seven-minute interlude, "Sandwich Break," features guitar noodling in the background while lead tambourine player President James Buchanan eats a BLT audibly over a microphone. Most of the innovation however comes from DiCole himself, who makes Plurg into a one-man show, often literally by playing every instrument himself while the other seven members are forced to watch at gunpoint and applaud, as on "Seven Guitars Playing the Same Riff." (The recording of that song famously took a month and a half and was captured in the award-nominated documentary, "Stop Playing That One Song, Asshole.")

That's not to say DiCole is the ultimate control freak. No fewer than three hundred and five writers, producers, engineers and pizza delivery boys were involved in the making of this album, all credited (with most of their personal information being listed in the liner notes,) although there are several Alan Smithees. One can't help but think this might lead to some redundancies, as the 15th track, "I Want You" is exactly the same as the 21st track, "I Would Like You," with a minor lyric change. And "Me On Take" is pretty much a-ha's "Take On Me," played in reverse. That is to say, with all the words and chords played in the opposite order. The effect is nothing short of stunning and says way more about the political themes of 1980's Sweden than the original ever could. Near the middle of the album he gets into politics with a stripped-down punk track called "Whores," and another called "WHORES!!" which is the same but louder. DiCole & Co. call up numerous collaborators, including a pre-fame Rebecca Black, whose work on this album has more in common with her celebrated indie work than her recent output. She appears on the a capella "Work Of Art in the Age Of Mechanical Reproduction," which is like the musical version being told by your parents that you're not special and nothing you do will ever measure up. And they're completely right.

Amidst the ruckus is the U2-esque "Get On Your Rape Boots", wherein drummer Jonathan Taylor bin Laden pushes a high school orchestra past its limits winding around DiCole's lyrics, which force us to wonder: Who is the true rapist? (The answer, it turns out, is the members of Plurg.) They also incorporate improvisation, as on the track "Meat Girl," which apparently includes the sound of a woman spontaneously giving birth in the studio. Then there's the storytelling on "The Boy With the Re-attachable Penis," which is apparently a childhood campfire song half-remembered by collaborator Louie "Not The Former Host of the Price is Right" Anderson.

Tracks 30-39 are a suite of tracks entitled "Marty McFuhrer, parts I-XII," a concept that reimagines the entire story of the Back to the Future trilogy with Adolph Hitler as the protagonist (and of course, in Plurg's version, the time traveler gets to third base with his mother.) The mini-opera takes a couple of chances, most of which pay off, especially re-creating the performance of "Johnny B. Goode" on Banjo and Clarinet.

Track 42 is a sprightly, Randy Newman-inspired romp that paints a detailed picture of a post-apocalyptic, "Children of Men"-type world where everyone on the planet has died a slow and very specifically, elaborately blood-soaked coughing, shitting death, appropriately entitled "Cotton Candy." What really sells it are the insistent handclaps and the sunny hook that goes "Everyone you love is dead, la la la la la! / All human achievement means nothing, la la la la la!" It's one you'll be singing in the shower.

The real opus, however, is the penultimate track, "Vulvae," an 86-minute epic that takes up most of the second disc and some of the third. It plays like a cross between Nirvana's "I Hate Myself And Want To Die" and Cyndi Lauper's "I Drove All Night," with a touch of Brian Eno. The song gets its name from the blistering solo played by third-guitarist Daisy Fuentes, on her crotch. The concluding track, ending the album on a strong note, is "Crying and Masturbating," which has to be heard to be believed.

With every album, Plurg increases its foothold over the pop, rock, hip hop, dance, electronica, country, classical, metal, punk, reggae and soundtrack genres, to the point where it feels like no band that has ever existed is not derivative of Plurg. If they keep improving their sound and fine-tuning it, and maybe start really exploring their abilities as musicians, they might someday record a classic album. This release is content to be merely a masterpiece, all things to all people, with broad ranging appeal and serious artistic concern. Despite not being particularly pleasant to listen to, it's nothing short of the greatest album of all time. Perfect. 7.4/10

Buy this album from iTunes now!

Note: As public decency laws make it illegal to actually inflict Plurg's music on others, here is an effective summary of their sound:

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