29 June, 2013

The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (The Band), Episode 3: The Pleaser

A Sound Design and Assembly Original Miniseries
Produced by M. Martin
Tonight: 1997's The Pleaser
Written by Charlie Pauken
Put the speakers in the windows and string up the Xmas lights around the patio, kids, and then after that, stock the kegerator, because this is The fucking Pleaser, probably the most daunting record Harvey Milk made at this point precisely because it's a straight forward, no frills rock and roll record. Who's that band that has that song "Party Rock Anthem"? Yeah, fuck those guys, The Pleaser is chock full of party rock anthems. Fast paced, four on the floor beats mixed with a little southern boogie-woogie and power chords.
I've heard some interesting rumors about this record. One being that the band wrote all of the songs that appear on it because they were asked to open for Melvins. Knowing that there were some clods out there that would write off Harvey Milk as a Melvins clone because both bands play slow, Harvey Milk decided that they were going to concoct a batch of songs that were the exact opposite of Melvins. The other rumor I hear about this record is that each song is supposed to be an homage to classic 70s rock and metal, so one song is supposed to be in imitation of KISS, one song is supposed to be in imitation of Lynyrd Skynyrd, then one for AC/DC and one for Ram Jam and one for Thin Lizzy and so on. But these are just the rumors I've heard.
Not that this really has anything to do with the review, I just thought they were little fun facts (well, fun rumors) that I wanted to get out of the way.
This record doesn't take forever to get started, there are no sound collages, the tape machine is not Harvey Milk's blank canvas to go all Jackson Pollack on. No. "Down" starts with a plain old fashioned kick in the nuts, you know, the kind that takes seven seconds to register pain in your abdomen. It's the kind of rock that you don't hear anymore (because I'm old enough to tell you that all of a sudden), the kind of rock that old issues of Rolling Stone would called "southern-fried" and, yeah, there are hints of Skynyrd in this, but it's as though Harvey Milk managed to find an element of Skynyrd that I might actually like and exploit the hell out of it. And, shit, there's a dual guitar solo. A dual guitar solo. They're on some Thin Lizzy shit with this record.
Speaking of Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott would be splooshing his leather pants if he were alive today to hear Stephen Tanner's bass work on "Get It Up & Get It On", another up tempo one that will have you wondering how selections from The Pleaser (and The Glasspack's Powderkeg) were left off the Dukes of Hazzard soundtrack. I mean -
Yeah, Dukes of Hazzard. The one with Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott.
Whatever, fuck you, dude. That movie was fucking awesome and so was the fucking soundtrack.
You know what? You do this every time you come here. I make a pop culture reference and you give me that snobby fucking haute culture look like I'm that one cousin you don't talk to at the family reunion because I drive an El Camino with a bitchin' cassette deck and you drive a fucking Beamer with an iPod dock. I think it's time you either just stopped coming her altogether or learn to accept the less-than-high-brow tendencies around here but, either way, just let me get back to the goddamned record review.
So, great. We missed the rest of "Get It Up & Get It On" because I had to stop to address your concerns. But I guess it's worth noting that if you weren't down with the track listing for the above-linked soundtrack, you're not going to be into The Pleaser.
Getting back to the damned song, though, "Get It Up & Get It On" is definitely a showcase for Tanner's bass playing. I might have said that this was a straight forward record, but it also exemplifies the musical prowess of the band. After two records of solid, mind-bending weirdness and pained dirges, they break out such an up-beat, party friendly record that you'd hardly recognize them, but they don't for a minute treat this record as a chance to relax and just play something in the style of old favorites that they grew up on, no, there's a fantastic level of musicianship on this record - you know, because this is a trio of fantastic musicians - and if anybody thought they were good because they played so slow that they could take their time to think about the next note, they'd be smacked senseless by the chameleon's trick they pull on The Pleaser.
OK, I'm pretty sure that whole paragraph made no sense. Moving on.
"Shame". What can I say about "Shame"? Well, for starters, if you walk into an Atlanta titty bar and this isn't in the DJ's collection of go-tos, than you might want to have a word with the management about the guy. This song is the sight of a lithe woman with legs that go up to her shoulders through a cloud of cigarette smoke and, brother, can she work that pole. She might have 80s weathercaster hair but it detracts not from the Cirque du Soleil level of skill she exhibits on that stage.
As the song progresses, the layers of guitars increase, playing the main riff - as much as I hate the word "riff", that's what's on this record: riffs - at different intervals, giving the guitars an almost synthesizer feel, à la that old school 70s hard rock I keep mentioning. And the reason it sounds so good is not because Harvey Milk did their homework, they lived through that era, which dictates the authenticity of the record.
"Red as the Day is Long" is the first Harvey Milk song I ever heard, years ago listening to Pandora Radio while playing flash games on the Adult Swim website and getting tanked on night shift after I first started working at the hostel. This one holds a special place in my heart because it was not only my introduction to the band but because it was so godawfully weird sounding and catchy at the same time. And to this day, I don't know the goddamned words. I think Creston is singing "Lay me down and feel my prayer" but I know that's wrong and I don't care. I'll sing those words. Why not? It's the fourth song on the record and the slowest moment so far, with little twinges of jangly country rock thrown into the mix of bent-noted dirge that evoke images of a stoned Waylon Jennings as the song carries on its relaxed waltz.
Things pick up again for "Misery", with the equivalent of a goddamned NASA missile-launch for a fleeting intro and then it's on to a verse that makes it impossible to not tap your foot in time to between those missile launches. I'm even having trouble writing this right now because I can't stop bobbing my head. And aint it weird that the two strip-club worthy songs on this record are named "Shame" and "Misery"? Seriously, some southern reader please inform me as to whether or not these songs are present in the strip clubs down there? Because they ought to be.
"U.S. Force" is as unstoppable as the chorus announces that U.S. Force is, whatever U.S. Force happens to be: "U.S.! Force! (Force!) We're unstoppable! No remorse!" Take that as you will, I like to think it's a cheeky little stab at blind nationalism and bullshit foreign policy. But we're here to discuss the music and I'm not a political science major. Shit, I'm a step and a half away from a green card marriage to the first Canadian woman that would entertain the notion (hint hint, ladies).
"What I Want" is a total horn-thrower with a to-die-for start-stop earworm for a chorus; this is the one that gets stuck in your head, with big big chords and drumming that makes drumming look easy. The drums are, on the surface, pretty basic until you actually pay attention to them and hear all the little nuances and syncopation going on underneath the basic beat. I'm pretty sure this was Paul Trudeau's next to last outing with Harvey Milk, and the sessions for The Pleaser must have lost him thirty pounds through sweat alone.
"Lay My Head Down". Jesus Christ, "Lay My Head Down", this is the fuck track on this record, a blues number in the traditions of Muddy Waters and Screamin' Jay Hawkins (real blues aficionados are hereby called upon to correct me) that is so sparse and dryly recorded that you can hear Creston's fingers on the fretboard that eventually builds to a section of loud pained ascent and a solo that just makes you jealous that you can't play guitar that well. And then it comes back down into that slow, smokey blues worthy of a place on your fuck-jams mixtape. This is the kind of baby-making music you put between "Dazed and Confused" and "Dondante".
You know what comes next? "Rock & Roll Party Tonite", the title of which basically sums up this record. "We're having a rock & roll party tonight! I don't care what you've been told, party tonight! It's too late to be too old, party tonight! Because we're having a rock and roll party tonight!" And the best part about this KISS homage? That the word "party" is screamed by all three band members à la "TV Party". Equal parts hard rock and punk with a little ironic "fuck you" thrown in.
And then we close out with "Anthem", which opens with a bass and drum intro that would be welcome on any Unsane record and a chorus that is simply the word "Alright!" over and over again. You don't get too much more party worthy than that: "Alright!"
This record is fun as hell and you are a lesser person for not having heard it, your parties have suffered for not having played it. So you kind of need to get on it if you haven't done that yet. Just want to let you know, though, this is the only Harvey Milk record that sounds like this.
Next time on "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (The Band)...
Either part two of 2004's The Kelly Sessions by M. Martin or 2006's Special Wishes

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