(to throw at them, if you don't like them)
With the fastest turnaround in music reviewing history, last night I had never heard of this band and today I'm giving their CD a perfect 9. But hang you on one jiffy: that score of 9 can be a bit misleading. See, this is a release that you can only buy from the band themselves when you see them play live. And that's the key here -- I cannot objectively (ha!) surmise the quality of this CD because the songs will forever be linked in my head with the duo's hilarious live show, which I watched three times last night at the Knitting Factory in NYC. Let's start at the beginning, for all the beginners out there.
So I goes out last night to catch three acts by my friend Neil Hamburger. And he tells me he's got this amazing opening act from Canada - a duo called Canned Ham that will blow me away. And I'm all like, "Frig! I gots to sit through an opening act THREE TIMES TONIGHT????" And Neil insists that he personally handpicked them to open his act for a reason - they're wonderful. So I'm all like okay and shit. Then it begins.....
Fake drums pounding through the speakers, two guys in denim on stage with their backs to the audience, doing some stupid '70s-style dance moves. But these aren't just any two guys in denim. One is a hugely tall, wide, obese man with a fu manchu and the other is a short skinny balding dude with a mustache. A cheesy synth melody comes in and the guys turn around and begin singing these ridiculously pretentious and bizarre lyrics about how powerful they are. "What the hell is this?" I'm sitting there wondering to my and yourself. Then they jettison into their REAL opening number, "We'll Entertain You," and the schtick is revealed - they're a parody of a Vegas-style vaudeville act! Think the Sweeney sisters from those old SNL episodes, but male, ridiculously effiminate and hilarious as all hell. The little dude bounces around, jerks his legs back and forth and sings his little heart out while the big dude lumbers around attempting to keep up with the uproariously dumb dance moves they've made up. Then they start weaving through the crowd saying greeting everybody before launching into a nonstop orgy of laughter, burlesque and audience interaction.
But that's not all - The overly cheery dialogue and fancy footwork would be nothing if their self-written songs weren't so abominably catchy. From disco to Meat Loaf-style balladry to lots and lots of Vegas-style, karaoke-ish synth cheese, the lyrics are brilliant ("We're ringin' the bells of sex - DING DONG DING DONG!), the singing is energetic and the CD cover is a darn hoot - featuring pics of the boys in both their trademark denim and in the romantic robes that they don after their burlesque strip tease during the live show. Plus it features uncredited bonus tracks -- laugh-out-loud answering messages, a cover of "Hey Jude" and a tribute to America's Funnyman, Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeil Hamburger!!!!!
I realize that this is a record review site and not a concert review site but I'm telling you -- whether you plan to purchase the CD or not, you HAVE to see these guys live. They're just too fucking funny (and FUN) to miss! I mean, they do a tribute to hairpieces, for Pete's sake! Finally, Canada has a musical act besides Burton Cummings to be proud of!
Anyway, the album is great. "We'll Entertain You" is extremely hillarious, even without the visual stimulus, (which admittedly, adds a lot during shit like "Father & Son"). Tracks 3-6 ("Father & Son," "Karazma," "High On Life," & "Karaoke Lady") drag a bit, especially the lattest (!!), but the brilliant power-ballad "I Kissed All the Girls At the Party" is a perfect foray into that "genre." "Bubble Bath" features wildly creative and interesting call-and-response vocals, "Shortnin' Bread" is an interesting oldies cover, where the Hamms display far greater ability to choose songs to cover than the Fabs ever did (Chuck Berry!? That's so cliche!), "Platonic Friend" addresses the depths of the human experience effectively, and "Bells Of Sex" is the clear highlight of the album.
Oh! The production! Brilliant. An abandoning of the Phil Spectoresque wall-of-sound so frequently (ab)utilized (!!) by modern groups, Peter Mills and Stephen Hamm decide to let the melody and lyrics speak for themselves and go "old-skewl" with a cheap Casio keyboard approach, similar to the approach utilized by Nirvana on "Bleach," which was recorded for under $700! One gets the impression that Messrs. Hamm didn't even spend $70 on this one, but, like intelligent investing in a diversified portfolio, containing both high-risk and low-risk stocks, their approach pays off handsomely.
The bonus tracks are brilliant. The answering machine messages (especially the British one) have to be heard to be believed, "Neil Hamburger" invokes "All You Need Is Love" in its invoking a patriotic tune in its introduction, and "Hey, Little Hamm" is the perfect song to listen to when contemplating suicide. (I've already thrown out "Automatic For the People!").
I'm not ashamed to say that I love Canned Hamm. I saw them in concert twice again last week (July 2003) and laughed, lived and loved just as hard and long as I did upon first sight a couple of years ago. This time I even had the wife with me (somebody's wife - not sure whose), and she loved 'em too! They have four GRATE new songs called "Who Needs A Hug?," "A Spanish-Sounding Thing About Fish And Tacos Whose Name I Can't Remember," "Giddy-Up!" (which takes their faux-homoeroticism to a ridiculous extreme -- and they're both straight!) and the minimalist techno "Boys Night Out." I loved all of them, and "Who Needs A Hug?" in particular is an instant classic, hopefully to be captured in the studio and released soon.
So what exactly IS this Reimagined CD and why do I find it so disappointing? Is that what you want to know? Okay, I'll tell you. But there's a price!.
INSERT BILLS HERE
IF NECESSARY, PERFORATE YOUR SCREEN WITH A SCISSOR
Well, what this is, is a tribute CD commissioned by the band themselves. Performed mostly by relative unknowns most likely from the country we're buffering from Mexico, but sprinkled here and there with rising stars you may know by name (The New Pornographers, Neil Hamburger, Frenzal Rhomb, Nardwuar The Human Serviette), the disc finds Canned Hamm's hits repositioned, restructured and refinanced into billions of different genres of interest. For example, "Karaoke Lady" becomes a lazy guitar rock deconstruction, "Platonic Friend" is Kraftwerked, "Bells Of Sex" is changed to an entirely different melody, "Get A Hairpiece" is presented first as a groovy bachelor pad wine-out and then as fuzzy Australian punk rock -- and the rest of the album follows my suit.
To the back of the closet, where it has sat since making me lose my job a few weeks ago. You'd think after seven years of accompanying me to the office, it would have known how to do my work as I ran around the office wiggling my ding-dong at people, but I guess it would rather be an ASSHOLE than help a guy out.
However, as interesting as these scattered interpretational music opinionings are to people like me who know Karazma forward and backward, the simple truth is that what made these songs so great in the first place was Canned Hamm's chosen style. Burlesque, Vaudeville, Karaoke, Cheeseball - whatever you call it, it's adorable and very few combos could pull it off with the wit and likability of "The Hamm." For this reason, no matter how novel it is to hear "I Kissed All The Girls At The Party" performed as half-acapella/half-disco, I'd still much rather hear it as an overblown power ballad sung by a guy with a mustache.
The disc isn't without its own charms, you understand. The New Pornographers treat "Father And Son" with the respect it deserves, changing little besides the addition of fuzzy glam guitars. Tennessee Twin does a fantastic country-western version of "High And Life." And best of the west, The Goblins and their talking monkey Pickles transform the "Neil Hamburger Theme" into an uproarious rumination on the comedy albums that have touched all of our lives. But that's not enough to make it my "Strong Recommendation Of The Day."
Which brings us to my "Strong Recommendation Of The Day."
My "Strong Recommendation Of The Day" is that the media stop pretending that anybody gives a shit about Ben Affleck and J.Lo. We don't!
Because we know that their love will last forever, through thick and thin, and they'll grow old together, creating a legacy of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to carry on the Lo-Affleck name. Where's the scandal in that? Give us some dirt! Like I heard Tim Robbins is nailing some old bag - somebody look into THAT one!!!!!
Before we begin, let me just say that whoever decided stealing cars and ramming them into houses is illegal should have put up a sign or something. But I'm not here to complain about the "police" and their "bullshit"; I'm here to review a Canadian album so gay it might as well be called Canned Hamm Packed By The Guess Who. I'm referring, of course, to Erotic Thriller, a XXX-related parody of Michael Jackson's chart-topping 1
I'm, of course, referring to Erotic Thriller, which marks Canned Hamm's sudden conversion from Kampy Karaoke Kuties (KKK) to Giorgio Moroder '70s Gay Disco Gods (GM7GDG). No more the bouncy diversity, childlike glee and smiling happy rainbows; Canned Hamm is now decked "oot" (Canadian) in dark eye make-up, creepy dreadlocks and dark sunglasses, bringing you dark minor-key synth bwoops and octave-bouncing bass keyboard lines. All with a saucy, sexy beat that will drive gay men wild from San Francisco, CA to Chelsea, NYC and all gay points in between. Rrrraarr! (*makes gay tiger claw hand motion*)
But I only give it a 7. I love Big Hamm and his lil' friend Lil' Hamm, but I've never been too turned on by disco music. These boyz certainly display more personality than many of your two-bit pretenders from the late '70s, but that doesn't change the fact that by its very NATURE as a dance-orientatated album, Erotic Thriller isn't anywhere near as melodic and diverse as Karazma!. The strangest thing is that half the time, they sound dead serious! Are tracks like "Laughing At Me," "The Conversation" and "Princes of Poptronica" intended as parodies, homages or simply mere REPRESENTATIONS of Giorgio Moroder-style poker-faced dance music? Until the lyrics sheet is made commercially available, we can only wonder. Wonder and dream.
Having said that, I'm not lying about the 7. As much as I could do without disco, there are a heck of a lot of great moments to be heard and experienced on this disc. Album-opener "Boyz Nite Out" has been a personal favorite of mine since I saw them perform it live a year ago, and does a hilarious job of setting the album's tone of a Gay Party In Progress ("So uhh... I've been looking through my rolodex for some good times -- and all the girls' numbers have been ripped out!" "What are we gonna do?" "Well, I guess we'll have to make do with what we've got!"). "Divas" continues the hot, sweaty disco action (complete with a stereo double-diva narrative breakdown mid-song!), but after that it's kinda hit or miss if you're not a disco nostalgia buff at heart.
It's not that the songs are interchangeable -- "In Praise Of Older Women" features some genius Queen-style operatic vocals, as well as a skat breakdown and guest rap; "Laughing At Me" has a nice piano piece at the end; the title track is slow and spacey with some truly bizarre lyrics (he went to Vietnam and got messed up for nothing?); "Princes of Poptronica" uses a vocoder like Trans Am; "Seafood Taco" includes a Spanish guitar and female Mexican; and "The Conversation" sounds like the Pet Shop Boys -- it's just that once you get past the various quirks and trinkets of each one, there's not much actual MUSIC to be had. It's just dancey beats and simple minor-key disco lines from here to Nashville (America's 'Home of the Disco'). In fact, only ONE song boasts the strong melodic hookocity of Karazma!; that would be the beautiful "lost love" soul organ ballad "Couples Nite," which should be paired with "I Kissed All The Girls At The Party" as the Bookends of Heartwarming Canadian Love Poetry. Somebody in Canada get on that. It's about time your worthless hellhole of a country did something positive for America.
As for comedy, even if the music sounds deadly serious, a lot of the lyrics are phrased so strangely, they're impossible not to grin with. Examples must follow:
"Divas" -- "I wipe the crumbs from my face for the Divas/I hope I'm in the right place vis a vis V.I.P. the Divas"
"In Praise Of Older Women" -- "Young girls, don't get us wrong cuz we be digging you, too/But this song ain't about you"
"Laughing At Me" -- "Ha ha ha ha ha!/That's the sound of you all laughing at me"
"The Conversation" -- "And from whose end did that click come from?/From whose end did that click come from?/Privacy where is our privacy?/Tear the walls apart for privacy/Privacy where is our privacy?/Tear the walls apart for privacy/And lets' do some tapping ourselves/Let's tap!/(tap solo)
"The Princes of Poptronica" -- "It's too late to hop on bandwagons/If we're on the charts then the charts are sagging/We don't know, we have no clue/We just know what we wanna do/And that's to dance, dance, dance, downbeat dance!"
"Seafood Taco" -- "I held the stick that broke the piņata/But it wasn't candy coming down atcha/She said/I don't understand what she said"
Even if you don't find those phrasings as hilarious as I do, three of these tracks will have you squirtin' milk out of your nose (or female breast), but man they are FUNNY. I mean laugh-til-the-cows-come-home funny. Laugh-a-day-early-to-rise funny. I mean FUNNY. So be sure and catch those.
I'm serious -- one of them begins with a full minute and fifteen seconds of Big Hamm walking up flight after flight after flight of apartment steps to finally reach his "pad." Another finds the Big Hammer singing lustily about his "Love Handles" (with emphasis on LOVE.... and girth: "Cuz my thyroid is overactive and so is my imagination/My metabolism's on a slow burn, it's burning!"). A third (of a possible three) is Lil' Hamm. That pretty much sums it up. The guy's fuckin' hilarious, period. That's why the seeming lack of OBVIOUS humor on here is such a mystery and dilemma! Why would two men with such brilliant senses of humor put their charisma on hold for the sake of dance music? Who knows. Irony? Irony so deep I can't seem to find it anywhere? Or a true desire to blow your mind? I don't know. I'd have to ask one of them and believe me, I'm not setting FOOT in their sauna after hearing THIS "Man of an album." But one thing you SHOULD know is that I have a friend, and this friend is a fan of Giorgio Moroder and his classic disco productions, and this friend absolutely LOVES Erotic Thriller. So take my 7 with a grain of salt - it's based on personal subjective loathing for an entire genre!
Other tracks include a cover of Chuck Mangione's "Cannonball Run," complete with a two-minute coda of synthesized 'car racing' noises, and a spectacular disco song created from one electronic beat and a bunch of cellphone ringtones. THAT'S pizzazz, Jazz!!!!
Incidentally, neither member of Canned Hamm is actually gay. Explain that one.
I love Christmastime. Buying gifts for family, trimming the tree with blinky lights and dog ornaments, unwrapping sexploitation movies in front of my parents -- but most of all, I love Christmas music.
That's not true, but I had to get to the next paragraph somehow. Every year, my parents and brother fly to NYC to spend Xmas Yuletime with The Mark Prindle Family(TM), so I get to DJ the occasion with all of my favorite Christmas records. In seasons previous, the Prindle Klan has been subjected to the December cheer of such luminaries as Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson, The Ventures, Bob Rivers, Beach Boys, Beatles, Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Mr. Hankey, Vandals and Chipmunks, as well as the top-selling Star Wars Christmas Album, Sesame Street Christmas, Dr. Demento's Favorite Novelty Christmas Songs Ever, A John Waters Christmas, The Annoying Music Show Holiday CD, Punk Rock Xmas, Hardcore Holiday and Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? A Song-Poem Christmas releases. And sure, my extended family claims to love each and every song I play for them, yet I can tell that deep down inside they're longing for something more gay. So this year they're getting something different -- for this year we have Sincerely Christmas, the funniest, corniest, catchiest, and most ridiculous holiday recording I've ever heard.
Aside from one or two tracks, the boyz have left Gay Disco behind to reclaim the bouncy silly keyboard tunes of their debut - with a vengeance. Although the lyrics are full of hilarious jokes for adults (not obscene, just not kids' jokes), most of the music is basically children's music, with that level of exaggerated enthusiasm and simple major-key catchiness. And this is a perfect sound for Canned Hamm, because it's this over-excited energy and determination to entertain you (with absolutely no concern for being considered "cool" or "ironic") that makes them so unique and wonderful. I personally felt that the musical component of their winning formula (hilarious, brilliant turns-of-phrase melded with BIG SINGALONG MELODIES) suffered when they decided to go Gay Disco on Erotic Thriller, so I'm super-thrilled to say, without hesitation, that this is not only the catchiest and most fun Canned Hamm release yet, but indeed one of the catchiest and most fun CDs I've ever heard.
I love bullet points, so here are just a few of the many, many highlights to be found on this masterpiece:
- A character named 'Salty The Rattlesnake' who speaks two words in the first track ("Yesssssssss?" and "Yesssssssss.") and is never heard from again
- A sultry funky soul ballad called "Sexy Elf"
- The sound of the boys excitedly ripping the wrapping paper off of their gifts, followed by Big Hamm exclaiming "You got me the gift of friendship!"
- A laugh-out-louder Chipmunk parody ("Hamster Hamm") who wears a big H on his shirt and preaches responsibility and safety ("Wear your safety goggles before you throw snowballs!/And use prickle-proof gloves before you deck the halls")
- A full four-minute guest appearance by Neil Hamburger, highlighted by
a constantly bungled lyric (song title: "Office Christmas Party"; Neil's
chorus: "It's the Christmas Office Party!") and such touching exchanges
Lil' Hamm: "And you know what the other present we have for you is?"
Neil Hamburger: "A noose?"
- Typically oddball lyrics like "We can't see nuttin' at the Santa Claus Parade/People pushing, people shoving at the Santa Claus Parade/Making the little ones sad/Making the big ones sad/Children of all ages sad at the Santa Claus Parade!"
- A deadly serious Old Testament Hymn about the sin of gluttony ("Gorge, gorge, gorge/And then gorge some more/If you are poor/You must forage so you can gorge")
- A woozy drunken ode to "Rum And Eggnog" whose music deliberately staggers up and down out of key in such a disturbingly unstable manner that it practically begs you not to throw up. It doesn't help that the vocalists also sound wasted out of their minds (sample Lil' Hamm lyric: "DOODY DOODY DOO DOODY DOODY DOODY DOODY DOODY DOODY A-DOODY DOODY DOODY DOODY DOODY DOODA DOODA It's your turn!")
- This exchange:
Big Hamm: "Yo! You know what's comin' up next on the album?"
Lil' Hamm: "What's comin' up next on the album?"
Big Hamm: "I'll tell ya what's comin' up next on the album!"
Lil' Hamm: "What's comin' up?"
Big Hamm: "YOU tell me what's comin' up!"
Lil' Hamm: "Okay, I'll tell ya what's comin' up! We're countin' down to one of the Top 10 moments in Hip-Hop!"
Big Hamm: THAT'S what's comin' up!"
- A guest rap by Lil' Baby Jesus (or "LBJ" for short), who comes "Straight Outta Bethlehem," sounds an awful lot like a Kid of Widney High, and invites homies to "come see my crib"
- Croatian ladies' man Ivan Hrvatska singing a dangerously catchy polka entitled "First I Make Love To You (And Then I Make Love To Christmas)"
- A special Christmas rewrite of "Father And Son." And by 'rewrite,' I mean they added two words. E for Effortless!
- A special telephone call from a rushed-for-time Santa
BULLET POINTS END HERE
Here's something interesting: Lil' Hamm's voice is lower and less gay this time around. I have no theories about this; I just find it interesting. Perhaps he had a cold?
On a related note, as of last night's physically brutal exam, my wife and I now hold First Degree Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do. That's one step above Black Belt, which means we get fancy new black belts with our names stitched into them in both English and Korean. The test was awfully grueling -- last week, we had to do about a jillion stretches, push-ups, sit-ups and leg lifts before going through all our forms and about nine thousand repetitions of our kicking combinations, then last night we had an hour of target/bag and self-defense, followed by an hour of non-stop sparring against groups of one, two and three people all hitting and kicking us (mostly in the head) as hard and fast as they could. The instructor specifically told them to try and knock us out. Tiring? Indeed! Painful? And how! My wife has seven band-aids on her hands today and we both have bruises all over our arms. But we caused quite a few bruises as well, so good for us and our violence in life today.
Wait a minute - THAT'S NOT A RELATED NOTE AT ALL!!!! I'VE AGAIN BEEN HAD!
In conclusion, it's time for you to get $13 out of your pocket and buy THIS ALBUM BY CLICKING ON THIS LINK RIGHT HERE. (I'd tell you to go through my Amazon link, but they're not stocking it because they hate Canadians). Hurry! The Christmas Season's coming, and once it's here it's never going away!!!!
Dude, I just noticed I used the word "stocking" in that last paragraph, yet I wasn't talking about a Christmas stocking! See? I've got that Christmas spirit all year round!
Now pardon me while I snowBALL this HO HO HO!