Yesterday, I read a letter from an editor
That tells me what he thinks, how all this music is boring,
Concentrating on how much this really stinks.
It’s not my fault if you’re snoring.
Go ask your mother cuz she knows what you need.
Let your heart open cuz it needs time to bleed.
So goes the third verse in the first song, “Your Bleedin’ Heart,” on Under the Tray …, the third release from Get Up Kids keyboardist James DeWees’s solo project, Reggie & The Full Effect. At least DeWees recognizes people find his music lacks artistic merit. Of course, his response is predictably suburban pop-punk: “It’s not my fault if you don’t get it.” Indeed.
Under the Tray has seemingly had the power to delude a group of relatively intelligent critics into thinking its suckiness is quirky social commentary on popular music. The album’s cheesy synthesizers and primitive drum machines, along with DeWees’s tongue-in-cheek vocal style, they say, deliberately poke fun at the electroclash movement’s embrace of the 1980s, turning the tables on the hypocrisy of the elevation of a regurgitated style of music many found to have no artistic merit the first time it came around.
And if you believe that, there is a unique development opportunity in Iraq that I’d like you to take a look at.
When the indie scene drools over an act such as Reggie & The Full Effect, it gives credence to the Establishment belief that the whole scene is nothing but crap. The scene is sometimes so afraid to embrace anything remotely palatable that it creates the “outsider” phenomenon often witnessed in fashion and fine art. One only needs to look at the praise heaped on Matthew Barney’s indecipherable Cremaster Cycle for a relevant parallel. Those who follow along talk about such lofty themes as Irony and Hyper-Reality, and those who don’t get it are labeled as boors, pedants or, even worse, “mainstream.”
This does two things.
It reinforces the homogeneity of mainstream commercial artists. Because of acts such as this, legitimate new movements (the type that spawned acts such as the Sex Pistols, Suicide and Sonic Youth) can be easily dismissed. It undermines all those bands struggling to make a name for themselves who believe passionately in their music and sacrifice stability and any semblance of normality to make it work in the hopes of truly touching someone’s soul. I seriously doubt Reggie & The Full Effect is a “band” that would be willing to sacrifice stable lives and jobs for the sake of their “art.”
Which brings me to my second point: DeWees doesn’t have to lay anything out on the line to get his music heard. Vagrant, the label of his “day job” band, has forked over the money to allow him to indulge his child-like music-making skills with songs such as “Canadians Switching the Letter P for the Letter V, Eh?” and clips from drunk girls at Get Up Kids shows. Before, these types of sonic indulgences were passed from friend to friend on cassette tapes. Now, respected indie labels such as Vagrant are using the financial success built from sales of acts such as Paul Westerberg, Rocket From the Crypt and Hey Mercedes to promote Under the Tray rather than signing new acts. In a very real way, our once trusted “indie” system is becoming awfully major in its approach. What’s next? A duet featuring Shania Twain and Mike Patton?
Retro and kitsch can be done quite effectively. But to suggest that DeWees is following in the footsteps of the Madchester scene, or Wesley Willis, is to undermine the artistic significance of bands such as the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays and Ocean Colour Scene. While both DeWees and the Mondays might have that “crazy” approach to making music, the Mondays were a good band in spite of it, rather than because of it.
On “Getting by with It’s,” DeWees can’t stop talking about himself and being in a band; he revels in recording the conversations of drunk girls at his other band’s shows. Musically, the song could easily be a footnote to the discographies of ’80s acts such as Erasure and Flock of Seagulls.
Interestingly, he does throw his audience one bone: “Image is Nothing, Lobsters are Everything.” Despite the horrible title, this song is the best of the bunch — and about as unlike the rest of the album as you can get. This song tempers DeWees’ emo vocals into something more melancholy, placing them against a dark, brooding electronic background of piano and strings. “Image” is the sort of song one might expect to find on the soundtrack of a Tim Burton movie; it’s a good song, and I have no idea why it’s on this album.
Immediately following is the grind-core “Aghhh!!!” fest of guitars and whiny vocals titled “Apocolypse [sic] Wow!” Double-bass drums rest alongside cliched heavy metal guitars and two-note synthesizer tones. “If you die before you wake, I pray the Lord, you’re not a fake.” Banality has never served anyone particularly well, the Southern California pop-punk scene even less so.
“F.O.O.D. (aka Aren’t You Hungry?)” takes a shot at big-band swing before mixing in Mike Patton-like screams, calling to mind the work of artists such as Tub Ring and Mr. Bungle. But again, others have done this more seriously and much better.
It’s clear DeWees’ M.O. on this project is nothing more than that of a second-rate regurgitator, a would-be satirist with a bent for exploiting the stupidity of drunken Southern women in between his songs. Under the Tray is for teen-age boys, a group for whom sophistication is managing not to fart in front of their girlfriends. It is not a CD for respected rock critics to validate.