Album: Bobby Conn with the Glass Gypsies
The Homeland, Thrill Jockey
Friday 16 January 2004
With its outré blend of glam rock and soul, Bobby Conn's 2002 debut The Golden Age stuck out like a sore thumb among the earnest noodlers who make up most of the roster of Chicago post-rock label Thrill Jockey. This follow-up is no less idiosyncratic, a concept album whose mix of taste-free prog rock and political satire recalls Frank Zappa's anti-Establishment broadsides on albums such asBroadway the Hard Way and Meet the Mothers of Prevention.
As the title suggests, The Homeland targets the decaying state of contemporary American society, with particular reference to the Bush administration's attitude to foreign policy. "Say goodbye to all your history/ Come and join our family" runs the bitterly sardonic commentary on US imperialism in "We Come in Peace", a bizarre but catchy glam-rock stomp, while the title track itself presents its proclamation of rapacious supremacy to an equally odd combination of choral humming and lumbering heavy-metal guitar riffs: "We are helping ourselves/ We are taking it all/ For the homeland".
Things get a little more personal on the febrile disco-funk number "Relax", where Psycho-style strings add a chilly edge to lines such as "I didn't need to get elected/ When I was born I was selected/ To lead you to our destiny". These sinister, secret-society undertones are made more explicit in "We're Taking Over the World", a paranoid pomp-rock view of capitalist hegemony whose references to the Masons and the Illuminati are echoed in the front cover's all-seeing-eye Masonic emblem.
Around these attacks on political institutions are arranged depictions of the corroded domestic attitudes America seeks to export - empty excess in "Cashing Objections", cosmetic surgery in "The Style I Need", and gun culture in "Home Sweet Home", where Conn's disdain is threatened by his own gun-toting fictional psychopath: "You know, ironic distance isn't very far/ This rifle has a range of 2,000 yards."
What lifts Conn's critiques above the level of professional indie protesters such as Rage Against the Machine, however, is the sheer range and bravado of the Glass Gypsies' arrangements, which range freely across just about every Seventies musical style, from prog rock to glam to disco to punk to metal, with a florid theatrical camp that would put even The Darkness to shame. The surprise is that, rather than sabotage the left-leaning sentiments on display, the satiric approach serves to throw them into starker relief - so that although one chuckles at the bombast and bluster of the music, the lyrical sting lingers long after it's faded away.
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