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.
R: Do you ever foresee the Mr. T Experience moving away from relationship songs, or is that what you're all about?
Dr. F: Occasionally, there's songs that don't fit that category; there aren't any on this record, but I don't think it's an accident that the lion's share of songs and novels and movies and plays and everything else have to do with the idea of looking for love and all the pitfalls inherent to that. I've always felt that if you're going to try to say something and go into different territory, that's a great idea, but you've gotta have something really important to say, and I never really felt that I did. In the punk scene we came from when we started, there was a pretense that everything had to be political, and it didn't really mean anything except that's what you're supposed to do. They recycled the cliches and left-wing slogans of an earlier era and made them into punk songs. Sometimes they were unintentionally funny and sometimes they were unintentionally good, but they always lacked a certain base, and they didn't have that much resonance for me when I listened to them as a kid.
I think that the love song as a general entity is something that encompasses life. Having a girlfriend that's not working out or being in love with someone who doesn't like you or whatever, practically everything you can ever think or feel comes into play in some way in that situation, and that's why so many great songs throughout the history of pop music are love songs. That might be a good idea for another concept album, though--can Dr. Frank do an album with no songs about girls on it?
R: Is your love life as tragic as you make it sound?
Dr. F: There are people I know who'll look at this record and say, "Okay, here's 16 songs, that means Dr. Frank had 16 girlfriends between Love Is Dead and now." It's not literal to that degree. Writing songs like this, you have to be deliberate and have enough distance from what you're writing to manipulate the song and make it about a particular thing. To make a pop song that works, you have to present reality in a structured way that reality just doesn't have--reality doesn't rhyme and have verses and choruses and all that.
Basically, my attempt is to take traditional subject matter--the love song, which can either be a breakup song or a romantic song---and I try to figure out an angle to present it in a way I've never heard it before so that it justifies its existence. That means drawing on experience, but also a lot more than that. Some of the songs I don't even think of myself as the narrator. There's a character that kinda narrates all the songs and he's got points in common with me most of the time, but not always, and it's certainly never exactly identical.
The Mr. T Experience is scheduled to perform on Sunday, September 14, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. Call 820-7117 for showtime.
Elliott Smith, the dark knight of the new folk, won't be playing Phoenix this month as originally thought. His "Elliott Smith Project" tour, which had him playing bass with NW duo Quasi (a project by Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss and her ex-husband) and Quasi backing him with bass and drums, has been postponed so Mr. Smith can get some rest.
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Depressed or suicidal fans should run to the record store and pick up Smith's new seven-inch, Division Day, out on Seattle's fledgling Suicide Squeeze label. Both "Division Day" and "No Name #6" live up to all expectations fostered by the recent LP Either/Or. Smith's the closest thing to poet laureate that the Fucked Generation has thus far. (Suicide Squeeze, 4505 University Way NE, Box 434, Seattle, WA 98105)
In semilocal homo-core news, queer-punk band Pansy Division was joined onstage recently at San Diego's Lesbian & Gay Pride Festival by the Valley's own Rob Halford (of Judas Priest fame), who helped PD perform its cover of "Breaking the Law" (Pansy's version, which appears on the new More Lovin' From Our Oven LP, alters the lyrics to advocate "breaking the sodomy law").
Sebadoh booted drummer Bob Fay recently. Remaining members Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein haven't commented yet, but Barlow's wife Kathleen Billus said recently in an e-mail post, "They really love Bob and didn't want him out of the band. But, over time, it became apparent that they needed to have drumming that suited the songs they were writing and decided to approach the situation this spring. Lou still wants very much to work with Bob in both Deluxx Folk Implosion and other things. He and Jason just need another drummer in Sebadoh."
Last month we weren't sure if the Peechees would keep the Valley date on their fall tour, but now we know. The Peechees are scheduled to play Stinkweeds Record Exchange in Tempe on Tuesday, September 16.