By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
Like your friend whose romances are messier than yours, the Mr. T Experience is back to cry about it with its eighth album, Revenge Is Sweet and So Are You. The MTX is pop punk's troubadour of love gone wrong, master of the "I loved you but you dumped me so I hate you but DAMN I wish we were still together" pop song. Following up last year's concept album, Love Is Dead, Revenge Is Sweet continues where the MTX starship left off, offering 16 tracks of tortured love and loss.
Dr. Frank, Joel and Jym have a few tricks up their sleeves this time, resulting in a more eclectic bunch of songs than on Love Is Dead. The boys pulled their shitkickers out of the closet to stomp out "Hell of Dumb," an East Bay-vernacular ballad augmented by authentic pedal-steel-guitar twangs, and "Some Foggy Mountain Top," a blistering cover of a traditional bluegrass song replete with an "odelayee-oh" chorus. Also, to enhance the MTX's omnipresent juvenile edge, Dr. Frank recruited his grade-school-age cousins to sing back-up on the chorus of the "Love Is Dead" reprise.
Dr. Frank's adroit lyricism is in top form on Revenge, exemplified by the double entendres of "She's Coming (Over Tonight)" ("We won't tell a soul tonight/'Cause our mouths will be full tonight/And talking with your mouth full isn't polite"). The doctor keeps the lyrical sagacities flowing on "The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful," "Lawnmower of Love" and "Who Needs Happiness (I'd Rather Have You)."
Besides releasing Revenge Is Sweet, the MTX boys served as the backing band on the recent Bomb Bassets album Take a Trip With. Brothers Dallas and John Denery (of Sweet Baby and the Hi-Fives, respectively) make up the remainder of the Bomb Bassets, in which Dallas relieves Dr. Frank of his usual songwriting duties. The similarities between the two recordings are obvious; Take a Trip With is just a bit more optimistic (even the breakup songs here are proclamations of devotion).
The high points of Take a Trip With are the cover of Swamp Dog's "Total Destruction to Your Mind," which features vocal freestyling by the Peechees' Chris Appelgren, the acoustic long-distance love ditty "The Only Way I Know" and "Better Than That," Dallas Denery's declaration that "I see you with him and I know he's no good for you and I could do better than that."
I called Dr. Frank at his house last week to delve into the psyche of pop punk's king of heartbreak. This is the transcript:
Revolver: How would you differentiate Revenge Is Sweet from the rest of your records?
Dr. Frank: I think Revenge follows the thread of the other ones conceptually. Unlike Love Is Dead, which was a concept album and tried to keep a uniform sound and feel all the way through, the intention on this one was to make the listener bounce around a little more. Song to song and even within songs we tried to throw in different sounds and changes to make the listener kinda go "huh?" when they hear things in it.
That's something our band has always kinda done unintentionally, but we wanted more of that this time. I wanted the songs to exist on their own and not really have anything to do with each other, as opposed to being a concept thing like Love Is Dead was. I think it turns out after it's all over that the record actually does have a theme, but it wasn't really intended.
R: What inspired the little-kid choruses and the hillbilly touches?
Dr. F: It gives a pretty ordinary song that little extra thing that makes it kinda weird, y'know. The thing I'm hoping is that you'll be able to remember these songs after hearing them only once, because a band like us usually gets about one chance. We tried to put little things, like the kids singing, as tastefully and sparingly as possible in every song. Every song on the record has some kind of crazy, sometimes almost subliminal weird thing on it. The country thing--I've always been a real fan of country music, probably earlier than any other kind of music. I've written country songs for many years, although few of them have ever made it onto Mr. T Experience records. But "Hell of Dumb" isn't really a country song. I don't know what it is; it's kind of a hybrid sitting in the periphery of what we usually do. The songs always come first and then you figure out what you're going to do with them after they exist.
"Hell of Dumb" kinda cried out for the countrified treatment. I wanted to have a song with a pedal-steel player for a long time, 'cause I can't play that. I think people might see it as more of a departure than it really is. On every album since about '92, I wanted a song like that but could just never get it together or afford it. This time I was able to. Then there's the weird thrashy version of the bluegrass song, which is a song I've loved since I was a kid and always wanted to do in some form. Conceptually, it seems to go along with the rest of the body of work.