Fear of a Wack Planet
There's an adage that's oft repeated among those who grow up in addiction-infested societies--"once a junkie, always a junkie." It's a saying that can also be applied to the question of Fear of a Wack Planet's success.
The Phunk Junkeez have been running off at the mouth and blasting their scratch-addled hard rock since the beginning of the decade. The band's hyperactive, unpredictable live shows have gained it an intense following in the Valley and sporadic but enthused success across the states. Wack Planet, the Junkeez's Trauma debut that comes loaded with high sales expectations, will certainly provide the addicts with their fix--the requisite white-boy rapping, sampling, scratching and occasional beat-box over bass-heavy rock lines. It is as well-produced as it comes in the genre and is nothing less than what fans expect of the band.
The question of whether Fear of a Wack Planet is actually a good album depends on your point of view. If you're a 17-year-old white kid listening to KEDJ, and Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy" is starting to get on your nerves, a track like "Million Rappers" is probably a breath of fresh air. If you're a music critic or an aficionado of such, you're probably wondering when the spate of third-generation Chili Pepper offspring will abate. There's certainly a demographic for white-boy funk and rap, but Wack Planet does little to evolve the genre, and will surely be filed inconspicuously among the 311 and Sublime selections of teenagers with pierced lips everywhere.
This isn't a Junkee-specific criticism--the genre itself is limping on hobbled kneecaps in the dust of artists like the Beastie Boys who are truly expanding the parameters of white-boy rap. The Phunk Junkeez give one of the most energetic and frenetic shows you can find in the Valley, but their music loses its individuality when translated to wax.
Royal Crown Revue
(Warner Bros. Records)
Today's swing bands are a lot like the stars in our solar system, appearing just about every night in varying magnitudes. Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are currently the bigger constellations in the swing galaxy. The more they shine, the more we tend to wonder, "How did it all begin?"
The mysteries of the big-band theory can be unlocked in the story of Royal Crown Revue. Markings on their new disc, The Contender, clearly read: "Established 1989," as if to offer unquestionable proof that RCR paved the way, before fedoras were fashionable.
With The Contender, their third studio release, RCR have once again proved themselves to be sultans of swing. For a second time, the seven-piece group has hired producer Ted Templeman, but there is considerable contrast between 1996's Mugzy's Move and The Contender. Somewhat dissatisfied, RCR found the production and musical direction on Move to be too polished and straightforward, but Contender lends itself to easy listening. The structure is loosely tight while a variety of related rhythmic tempos are explored.
The album opens with the title track, an up-tempo knockout with Tijuana-like brass and floor-tom pounding. Like the quintessential RCR standard "Hey Pachuco," it sets a standard for adrenalized arrangements. Downshifting a gear or two from that bionic bop, "Walkin' Like Brando" delivers a quick jitterbug for the "tough guy," played for all the candor of the cinema. "Big Boss Lee" is also 100 proof with lyrics about how to beat a last call for alcohol. Vocalist Eddie Nichols sings, "Two a.m. ain't good enough for me/If you wanna know the score when you're stepping out the door, grab the cash, forget the ol' I.D./If you're thirsty after three, you gotta talk to Big Boss Lee."
Emerging from the vintage garage are the restored classics "Stormy Weather" and "Zip Gun Bop," both previously recorded on the band's 1991 debut, Kings of Gangster Bop. The former was given a happy face-lift and now leads with a light measure just perfect for dancing. The latter, which is also on Move, is to be released as a single and may succeed if three times is indeed the charm. "Zip" has always been one of RCR's best--simple, powerful and uncompromising, like a flask of bourbon.
"Morning Light," a calypso-style ray of sunshine, is the biggest departure here, and it sounds more like a flask reloaded with Malibu Rum. Even in the absence of steel drums, RCR's versatility gives the rendition authentic flavorings. In similar fashion, mambo comes to mind with "Port-Au-Prince (Travels With Bettie Page)." Like a Geo convertible this one also drives light and breezy. On the jazzier side, RCR performs "Salt Peanuts," a Dizzy Gillespie standard, and an original entitled "Deadly Nightcall" that recalls Billy May's style of mid-'60s playboy/noir jazz.
The Contender is a fitting title for this band. It reflects RCR's pioneering stance, eclecticism, and originality. Such qualities have become paramount in the heated battle for the kingdom of swing. If Cherry Poppin' Daddies were actually clever, they would have written the song "Zoot Suit Riot" about the current contest for swing supremacy. Instead, they merely repeated the lyrical themes put forth in the anthemic "Hey Pachuco."
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