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Need New Body - Where's Black Ben?

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Artist: Need New Body

Album: Where's Black Ben?

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Aug. 1, 2005

Ostensibly, record reviews are about music. But every hundred blue moons or so, an album comes along where the actual songs seem sort of secondary. Where’s Black Ben?, Philadelphia goof-troop Need New Body’s semi-major label debut (5RC), is a textbook example of this baffling, incidental vibe. The 16 restlessly diverse tracks hopscotch across every conceivable genre, from “let’s get stoopid” ’80s hip-hop to perky/quirky new-wave pop to Sun Ra sci-fi jazz jams to thumping electronic vocoder parodies to even banjo-plucked nostalgia hoe-downs. Like the eye-burning, neon-graffiti scrawl-collage album art, Where’s Black Ben? is a ridiculous, excess-as-style, maximalist melting pot . Which, of course, isn’t by any means a bad thing.

The main danger NNB face is being branded with the dreaded “joke band” tag. Nothing seems to irk the ire of musical aesthetes more than the sound of a band amusing itself, and of this charge NNB are 100 percent guilty. Where’s Black Ben? is an orgy of creativity, there’s no doubt, but the eclectic schizophrenia can get a bit annoying/nauseating, not unlike Beck’s Stereopathic Soul Manure (minus the Scientologist disdain for party drugs). Having fun is clearly the order of the day, so to speak, as nearly every lyric sounds as though it were written solely to crack-up fellow band mates. Making good friends laugh can, of course, be a pretty pleasurable experience, but sometimes it means very dumb things get said. For instance the album starts with a super wacky cartoon rap track (“Brite the Day”) about Jersey girls, special feelings, and iPods, and features memorable declarations like, “I got some pastries, let’s just eat ‘em up.” A song or so later, in the jumpy, sugar-pop rocker, “Totally Pos Paas,” the singer tenderly deadpans gems such as, “Total trippy funky aliens broke my genitals while you were asleep.” Make of this what you will.

Silly, boredom-battling joke-collages can get seriously obnoxious, and Where’s Black Ben? is no exception to this rule, but somehow the album’s relentless style-surfing ultimately penetrates past the point where it sounds frantic or erratic. Unlike goofy pop-dabblers like Ween or Beck, Need New Body seem to not place much emphasis on the individual song, focusing instead on the fluidity of the album as a whole. And their editing here is immaculate, weaving blown-out Oneida organ rock into sitar-like banjo strumming into twitchy synthesizer blips, somehow without losing the subtle rhythmic thread holding it all together.

This is a record review, sure, but Need New Body shouldn’t be evaluated on such terms. The recording forces too many of the band’s aggregate parts into the foreground and intensifies the idiocy of their whatever/fuck it lyrics. And this is misleading, because bad jokes and kitschy stolen funk beats are just tiny specks in NNB’s giant, pan-global cacophony of shifting styles and hilarious noises. Unlike nearly every band imaginable, Need New Body really don’t have a definitive sound. They’re a band best beheld from a distance. That’s why one compact disc seems like too narrow a format to properly encapsulate their bizarrely vast and weird scope. They’d probably be better served by releasing only box sets.

By Britt Brown

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