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Tales From the Apple Box, #2: “Soul Rotation”

The second installment of my “Forgotten (Unjustly — or Sometimes Justly) Albums of the 90’s” series.

“There’s a little man in my head, and he’s drunk all of the time,” the poem began. “He sits there on a bench holding a monkey wrench, sometimes he beats it against my mind.” I was utterly captivated as I sat in my high school creative writing class, listening to a classmate of mine reel off this poem of such humor and surrealism. I looked down at my own stupid teen-angst poem, and was ashamed. I wish I could write like that, I thought. As it turned out, my classmate wished he could write like that, too. He cheerfully admitted later that he had lifted the poem (and several others) entirely from the lyrics of a band called the Dead Milkmen. This tactic quickly bored him, and in short order he discovered marijuana and began stealing Pink Floyd lyrics instead, but I was hooked on the Dead Milkmen.

After years of circulating self-released cassettes, Philadelphia’s Dead Milkmen were finally signed by indie label Restless Records, and put out their official debut, 1985’s Big Lizard In My Backyard. With nary a song lasting over two minutes, and titles like “Veterans Of A Fucked-Up World” and “Takin’ Retards To The Zoo,” BLIMB was the only record in the Milkmens’ catalog that could be defined as truly punk, although that label continued to be applied to them. Over the next three albums, their sound became gentler and more jangly as their musicianship improved (the squeaky-clean guitar lines of Joe Genaro were a favorite element for me), and their snotty childishness grew less aggressive and more whimsical, even adding a touch of melancholy. Fans came to expect certain elements to be included on each album, and by the time of their final release on Restless, 1990’s Metaphysical Graffiti, this had hardened into a formula: A humorous ranting monologue (or two) from lead singer Rodney Anonymous, some sophomoric scatological stuff (“Do The Brown Nose”), some retro pop-culture stuff (“I Tripped Over The Ottoman,” the best Dick Van Dyke Show tribute song you’ll ever hear), and some more “serious” stuff with a light sprinkling of social commentary (“Dollar Signs In Her Eyes”) all played impeccably with a light pop-punk touch. But by Metaphysical Graffiti, the schtick had worn thin, for the band if not their audience. For the first time, the Dead Milkmen sounded a little tired. Continue reading

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Filed under Music -- 1990s, Tales From The Apple Box