[Originally published 1995 |
Updated here 1999.06.20
I apologize for starting off with an obscure Amerikanski TV reference, but does anyone recall the old Saturday Night Live sketch (later heisted by Laurie Anderson in Home of the Brave) parodying a Spanish-language game show? The whole sketch was such a non-sequitur it oozed a kind of abstract recherché charm, with Bill Murray as quizmaster asking, "Quién es más macho, Lloyd Bridges o Jack Lloyd?" The answer back then was, of course, Lloyd Bridges (far more macho than Mr. Hawaii Five-O, who had Danno do all the manhandling).
Now I wonder if maybe Mike Watt es más macho – or is at least a bigger, more charming, even more recherché non-sequitur. This Watt guy must be one powerful bearded hunk o' flesh to get away with an album of such surpassing eccentricity, such intricate packaging, and such megastar guest performers as Ball-hog or Tugboat?
Watt is a hero among punk- and garage-rock queens, having written songs for and plucked various guitar strings in the Minutemen and Firehose. Indeed, careful study of the liner notes of Firehose's 1991 opus Flyin' the Flannel, with its comic strips and run-on lowercase text, gives clues to the gloriously overwrought design extravaganza that is Ball-hog or Tugboat?'s package.
It's a mustard-yellow folder twice the height of a CD with three disc-sized pockets bound inside. One holds the actual disc. The second contains Ring Spiel '95, an engrossing, bizarre made-up lexicon ("corporate pawn: obvious palooka"; "one-on-one tug-o-war: solo record"). The last pocket holds a poster of album credits, one side of which is meant to look like a broadsheet for an 18th-century Mike Watt Wrestling Federation match. The inside front cover sticks with this theme, showing an apparently headless comic-book guy with his neck butted up against another fellow's privates and the headline "Sex with you is like watching scientific wrestling."
Weird enough for you yet?
But wait, there's more. (This is a music column, remember? Sometimes I forget.) The album is a puzzling pastiche of styles (blues rock, tuneless guitar meandering, mumbled pseudo-ballads) with largely nonsensical lyrics spewed by guest vocalists like tattooed egocentric carnivore Hank Rollins, overrated angst-rock poster boy Eddie Vedder (monotonously reciting the words "The kids of today should defend themselves against the '70s," a fancy way of saying "disco sucks"), underrated soul crooner Mark Lanegan, and bald-pated hovercraft-piloting oddity Frank Black. (What, Watt? No Traci Lords?) If musicians are more your bag than singers, you'll find a similarly rich coterie of alterna-rock gods here too.
Sí, Mike Watt es más macho. I admit it. But can someone tell me why "Intense Song for Madonna to Sing" has no words to sing at all?
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, dance(hall)/techno/punk/ambient/rave impresario Moby has been driving Little Miss Queer in Your Ear here's fabulometers to the redline with his welcome combo of NRG, S-E-X, and ethics. Though for years I was absolutely positive Moby was a fag, in fact he is not; apart from tell-all magazine interviews, evidence of the wee skinhead's flagrant heterosexuality comes from the video "Everytime You Touch Me." It's quite an effective collision of overlapping frames, snippets of naked bodies with exaggerated skin tones, and some passionate making-out that, on close inspection, takes place between Moby and a couple of women. (Look closely. It's boy/girl. Wishful thinking clouds one's vision sometimes.)
Remarkably, the few seconds in which Moby is actually seen tonguing, pulling ropes off the legs of, or spooning treats down the throat of these women are surprisingly erotic. Since day zero we've all been saturated with depictions of guys and girls making out, which for a monosexualist like me elicit little more than boredom (or a fond desire for the woman in the picture to get lost), but Moby manages to make heterosexuality seem exciting, if only for a manageable few seconds at a time. Fancy that. Heterosexuality - exciting! Talk about beating the odds.
And the fact that Moby is a Christian vegan adds to the joy. Everything is Wrong is the title of Moby's second album, spanning the gamut with dance tracks (featuring stand-in vocalists à la Watt) and rock numbers and chill-out tunes. While Moby makes reference to the state of the earth and the pervasiveness of suffering, in fact "everything" is not wrong. There's very little wrong with Moby, or his music, or his ethos. If anything, Everything is Wrong is the antidote to its own title. Gulp down a lovin' spoonful.