Pansy Division is back. The San Francisco-based quartet has returned with Total Entertainment — its first in over five years — with energetic tunes and with a new label, Alternative Tentacles. When the band formed in 1992, it was viewed as a novelty act, billed as the first all-gay rock band back when being gay and playing rock ‘n’ roll seemed like diametrically opposed ideas. They quickly earned a large following of fans and raves by critics due to their quirky lyrics and sound that mixed pop, rock, and punk. They toured with Green Day (when Dookie was being touted as the best neo-punk album in years), which helped the band gain even more fans and mainstream exposure. And they’ve matured in the five years away, but Pansy Division is still making great songs.
Pansy Division’s most previous album, 1998’s Absurd Pop Song Romance, was a departure from the band’s earlier work, more serious both lyrically and sonically. But Total Entertainment is a great balance that expertly showcases the band’s sense of humor as well as it’s more mature leanings. It’s diverse, with songs that range between sing-along pop ditties to club-style dance songs to power-punk anthems, even to a few country songs that shake it up a bit more. But it?s all great rock ‘n’ roll.
The focus of Total Entertainment is the band’s talent for writing in-your-face brutally honest lyrics that have a sense of humor as well as a sense of purpose. Those tongue-in-cheek lyrics mixed with their taste for ’60s pop and ’70s punk combine to make good songs that are distinctive, original and catchy as hell.
Most of the songs are still overtly about homosexual relationships, but the subject matter transcends sexual preference. “When He Comes Home” is about owning up to being unfaithful: “Monogamy / for all the wrong reasons causes jealousy / But anyhow you took a vow / so be responsible for that now / When he comes home / tell him everything / don’t hold back at all.” These are words of wisdom for everyone and anyone, no matter who sleeps next to you.
The honesty of the lyrics deft changes from R.E.M.-style alterna-pop on “I’m Alright” to tunes with a mournful and solemn slant, including “First Betryal,” with weeping Spanish guitars, is a testament to the band’s abilities to blend genres and styles. Lyrics like “I make the effort and make the time / but I doubt you’ll ever be mine / You put up so many barriers / I get more calls from long-distance carriers / You’re so busy stringing me along/ That I guess I’ll never see you in a thong” on “Too Many Hoops,” is a great ’60-styled pop song that features the band’s humorous side.
There’s something for everyone on Total Entertainment. The band has always been popular because of the simplicity of its lyrics, which manage to impart lessons without being too preachy and heavy-handed. Pansy Division manages to do that again on Total Entertainment, a record that, all in all, was worth the wait.