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MX-80 - We're An American Band

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Artist: MX-80

Album: We're An American Band

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Oct. 15, 2005

In an interview with PopMatters, Dave Allen links Gang of Four’s return with the personal-political landscape, saying “I think we're kinda required more now than we were back then…” Post-punkers of yesteryear MX-80 seem to have recorded We’re An American Band, their first album since 1996, with a similar sentiment. In a faux-press report detailing the FTC barring the export of the album due to its dubious claims to be “American,” lead singer Rich Stim is quoted as saying the federal government is unfairly targeting “so-called subversive artists.” With We’re An American Band, subtlety is not MX-80’s strong suite and, as it turns out, neither is subversion.

While the tradition of post-punk dictates the personal-is-political approach to anti-establishment lyrics, MX-80 bring down the polemical hammer with lazy abstractions and boiler plate rhetoric. Chief perpetrator is “Lights Out,” which scoffs at the consequences of a technological brownout on American society. Large SUVs, ultra-modern lawn mowers, and EBay consumerism all get the Rich Stim pastiche here. This is not to mention the asinine: “If you’re so rich why aren’t you smart? / Your head's up your ass, do you talk when you fart?” Somewhere, Salute Your Shorts’ Bobby Budnik is smiling.

The rest of We’re An American Band is a similar exercise in banality. The chorus of the album’s namesake (also a Grand Funk Railroad cover) is sung in a bored baritone, creating the most base of irony, and the most obvious of statements. Attempts to make the cover a reflexive critique of the original are rendered impotent by such tripe. On “Don’t Hate the French,” Stim’s threat to put a frog in George Bush’s bidet is delivered so sardonically that, taken alone, the song might be redeemable as a mock-protest. One begins to wonder if We’re An American Band, as a whole, is a sloppy piss-take of the protest album. It seems to be the only means to rationalize MX-80’s half-baked survey of modern America.

The Tex-Mex soundscapes that appear periodically throughout We’re An American Band perhaps accomplish the album's highest form of subversion, creating a seedy soundtrack to the underbelly of the sun-bleached Southwest. Otherwise, the collage of saxophones, synth-strings, dub-bass, sound bites, and other disparate elements pointlessly muddle the album. Rarely does this instrumentation ever come together to become more than its sum, rather each track sounds detached and parochial. One could be happy that this isn’t just post-punk re-hash, but over-zealous use of effects processors and Roland presets is a poor alternative.

The feeble subversion that We’re An American Band achieves is similar to the bawdy, staff-authored songs delivered at an office’s holiday party. Ham-fisted rhymes lampooning “the boss” are cobbled together and set to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.” Normally, office morale is boosted, productivity is upped, and the lower-downs get a chance to roast the higher-ups. Everybody wins, right? Well, not this time. MX-80 are crowded in a cubicle, guffawing as they just wrote a “total burnsauce” ditty about the boss’ mid-life crisis. Getting carried away with the back-slaps and high-fives, they decide to put out an album. And that’s when everybody loses.

By Bob Hammond

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