(In the Red)
With its crazed surf vamps,
head-knocking Fall-like litanies, lurid poetry and vampiric sexuality, Kid
Congo’s third album with the Pink Monkey Birds sits at the conjunction of Stax,
post-punk and 1960s beat poetry. Flamboyant, surreal and utterly entertaining,
it’s a fine addition to a career that has includes stints with the Gun Club,
Cramps and Nick Caves’ Bad Seeds.
Powers has dedicated his album to
Gorilla Rose, the performance artist associated with L.A.’s Screamers, a proto-synth-punk outfit
known for wild, theatrical performances and gender-blurring sexuality. There’s
a photo of Gorilla Rose in the liner notes, boa’d, bejeweled and decadent, eyes
rimmed with black starbursts, a cigarette dangling from mustachio’d lips. It’s
a disturbing image, but absolutely makes sense as an inspiration for an artist
who can make his grocery list sound like a sex crime (and basically does just
this in the outré “Catsuit Fruit”).
Gorilla Rose splits, relatively evenly, between the songs that are
driven by the words and those that derive their power from riff and groove. “Bo
BoBoogaloo,” the opener, is clearly one of the latter, a wild romp of whammied guitar
chords and bumping bass. Perhaps in tribute to the Screamers, this is a very
keyboard heavy-band, and here organs flare up like a thrift store version of
the Stax horn line. In fact, the whole thing has a very Booker T-ish vibe, but
crazier, jokier, and with some of the claustrophobic repetition of the
Fall. “Bubble Trouble”later on, falls
into the same undulative category, a classic soul bass jacked and cracked into
post-punk anxiety, while “Lord Bloodbathington,” skews an Ennio Morricone
spaghetti Western swagger into something dark and dangerous.
The Pink Monkey Birds – Powers,
Kiki Solis on bass, drummer Ron Miller, and guitarist/keyboard players Jesse
Roberts and Jason Ward – play with a loose precision, linking Ventures-esque
surf riffs to rockabilly one-two beats and syncopated bass. You can hear a bit
of Powers’ past with the Gun Club and the Cramps in wild-eyed country-tinged
“At the Ruin of Others,” (“Can you see the punk rockers in leather? It’s all about costume,” he sneers). There’s
also more than a little of his In the Red brethren in the all-out garage rocker
But though the instrumental (or
mostly instrumental) cuts are fun, it’s the lyrics-intensive tracks that will
stay with you the longest. Here Powers intones tales of punk rock decadence in
a deadpan, hollow voice, phrases widely spaced, images noir-ish and
unsettling. “Our Other World” (another
Screamers reference) recounts scenes from an L.A. record shop, like Rick James throwing a
fit and a “in the jazz section some shoplifting drag queen was ODing in a pair
of roller skates.” The best of these
quasi-spoken word cuts is “Flypaper,” a slinky, tango-syncopated slither
through the nether regions of Congo’s
imagination. Sex for hire is implied but never stated in verses about a sex
queen holding court in the bathroom of a recording studio at 2 a.m.
“Lullabye in Paradise”, the 12/8 ballad near the end, is the
dramatic change of pace that doesn’t really work. Congo
sounds like a child molester rocking the cradle, but the song goes on too long.
Periodic rave-ups of garage-rocking noise don’t really correct the problem, but
rather point out how the rest of the song drags.
For the vast majority of the
album, though, Powers and his Pink Monkey Birds construct an alternate universe
of moral ambiguity and genre-crossing, bass-thumping, guitar-screaming, organ
blaring musical hedonism. Gorilla Rose
would be proud to have his name on it.
DOWNLOAD: “Bo BoBoogaloo,” “Flypaper” JENNIFER KELLY
Go here to read our recent interview with Kid Congo.