Mr T. Experience - Love Is Dead
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Dom Passantino’s fun fact of the day: The Ramones were absolutely fucking shit. No, they really were. Take away that one hockey song that everyone likes, and what have you got? The same song done over and over again with the tempo and words altered. Slightly. That’s the kind of dumb trick that was pulled by all those forgotten one-and-a-half hit acts of the mid 90s that you’ve since forgotten about (Rednex, No Mercy, The Offspring). The Ramones are the punk Bagpuss, mildly popular in the 70s, then forgotten about for 30 years, only to return solely as a fashion statement.
But anyway, that’s where punk started. That’s a fact. You can ask lots of badly informed people on other lest reputable music sites. And of course, according to the same people, punk started up again when Kurt Cobain performed the obvious epilogue to having spent four years in Dave Grohl’s company, and the arrival of Tre Cool as the world’s most famous person. But that gives us a good 14 year gap of music for us to mess around in. 14 years of punklessness? What on earth was soundtracking skateboarding highlight videos in the interim? What were we throwing ourselves into our bedroom walls listening to in between the Dead Kennedys railing against corporate greed and the Dead Kennedys suing each other?
Well, “we”, as a group, didn’t really listen to anything. Punk bands weren’t pulling up many trees saleswise over the period. But, yet, there were still one or two bands that made the effort over this eon. And the finest of these bands, by a proverbial country mile, were the Mr T Experience.
When you combine a raucous pop sensibility with “songs about girls” (as one of their earlier bumper stickers) put it, you could well end up with, say, Saves The Day. Mr T Experience have never approached any level of emocity, thank the lord. No, instead, for the uninitiated, it could be best to describe them as a Bay Area translation of The Smiths (complete with lovable prick frontman!). They entwined a suitably Moz-esque mix of vague misogyny, lyrical majesty, and… a knowledge for what just feels right. You understand here. Those moments in your musical history when you just wish that somebody you know was listening to the exact same piece of music at the exact same time, so you could text them and just go “… Yes!”.
“Mr T Experience started off as a joke, and then continued” said the beating broken heart of MTX, the only man to have survived the band’s 214 member changes, aforementioned lovable prick Dr Frank. It may be a joke, but at least its one that we can all share in.
So then, the date is January 1996. Green Day are BIG, Rancid are BIG, NOFX For A Name are BIG, The Offspring are SHIT, Jawbreaker… OK, maybe not Jawbreaker. And, at time of release, there was a definite sense that the Mr T Experience could be the next band to make the big leap. Being a band with nine years experience, success could have been argued to be long overdue, even if certain band members weren’t too impressed with their earlier output. And so, along comes this album… and it does hardly anything to change their popularity outside their fan-base, and they get repeatedly showered with shit whilst supporting Green Day fans as they support them on tour.
And that’s a crime of humanity, because this is easily the finest work of the second wave of US punk, and arguably one of the finest Stateside three-chord racket albums ever dropped on wax. Thinking of its competition at the time, “Dookie” has some fuck-awful tracks on it (“Sassafras Roots”, anyone?), and nobody likes an entire Offspring album. So, it all comes down to this, a slice of educated, bitter, violent (“Deep Deep Down” is a song about killing your girlfriend that makes “97 Bonnie and Clyde” sound like “03 Bonnie and Clyde”), hummable, bubblegum hearted, broken hearted, 24 carat genuine genius.
So, are we ready? Then let us begin.
Album kick-off “Sackcloth and Ashes” sets the pace like a 33/1 horse in a National Hunt race. The unsung hero of this whole album though is Kevin Army, a kind of mid 90s punk Neptunes, twiddling knobs for Green Day, Fuel, Pinhead Gunpowder, Corduroy (maybe not as impressive that one), and the reason that he’s been given so much of this punka action is that he understands what punk is: namely, it isn’t prog. There’s no need for the whistles and bells of overdubbed choirs and reverberated walls of keyboards in what is basically some guy shouting about how great/rubbish his (ex)girlfriend is. One of the main criticism leveled at the album by those critics who just don’t understand at the time was that this album was, for a Mr T Experience release, “dumbed down”. THIS IS PUNK POP FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! How do you dumb down punk pop? (apart from “Lifestyles of the rich and famous/ They’re always complaining”, obviously). Army allows the band space to work. Enough space for Jym to make with the punk-nag on drums (and this is a man who knows punk drumming, he sounds like he’s never even heard of “Funky Drummer”, and that’s a positive in these situations), and for the Doc to generally waltz around your sorry backsides on the lyrical front (“I feel down when I’m not feeling you up”, as he goes on one track).
So then, “Sackcloth and Ashes” is the official beginning of what some weird bastard fans have termed a concept album, the concept being that boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl falls for boy, boy kills girl, boy does some moping. Dunno where “Sackcloth and Ashes” fits in with all that, though, so just take it as a “You’re not getting into her knickers, because you dress like shite” tune, and leave it. This is what “Sk8r Boi” sounds like in heaven.
On to track two on the album… “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”. And in that title you have what can be termed the major flaw with MTX. It’s not a musical flaw, no, they do not put a single foot wrong at all with this song, or indeed any song on the album. No, the flaw is that they have this weird self-destructive element in them that doesn’t want to be taken seriously, a desire to have themselves treated, and to treat themselves, as a joke band. This has deprived them of any much deserved chart action. From the name (they were set up when Mr T was still halting fools’ jibber-jabber, and getting a stool thrown at him by Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania II), to giving all their earlier albums self-help book style titles, to, well, calling a song “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”, the one thing you could never accuse the band of is being careerists. Early in their career Dr Frank would introduce songs by saying “This one’s about a girl”, which in those Biafran days of ARR (Anti-Reagan Rock), was pretty revolutionary. This does of course mean that MTX’s direct spiritual descendants in contemporary music are not, as often stated, Green Day, but rather Blink 182. Hmmm.
Talking about Green Day, they get namechecked! “Dumb Little Band” recounts the tale (obviously totally fictional) of a punk band left behind by the MTV boom and whilst their good personal friends are “taping a live album at the Hollywood Bowl” they’re left “taping our flyers to the telephone poll”. Of course, they’ve got their fans though. “The guy at the bar says he thinks we’re OK/ We kind of remind him of Green Day”. Frank likes the Day though. “Green Day is a great band. I think when people complain about them it's one of two things. One, it's people who were in that original scene or bands from that period and it's just like sour grapes, jealousy. Also, it's the new people who've been influenced by the first group of people, and just say "ooh, sellouts" because it's cool and they don't know any better. That record's great, I don't think anyone can say it's not but even if you have the mindset that they're sellouts, well Mr. T Experience is certainly not in that category. We're just a dumb little band that does dumb little songs.” That’s a pretty long quote, but worthy nonetheless.
You know Prince’s “Ballad of Dorothy Parker”? It’s not actually about Dorothy Parker. Let down. False advertising is what killed that boy’s career, not his own hype. MTX have got love for the hard drinking, Stateside Wilde-with-tits critic, though. They decide to put her “Somebody’s Song” to a nice glass smashing punk beat. And, no, it’s nothing like Lou Reed’s “The Raven”. Thank fuck. This works.
The highlights really are all 16 tracks. “The search for love and happiness/ Turns out to be a game of chess/ You can’t move or you flip the board/ And you’re lying in pieces on the floor”. LYRICS MOTHERFUCKER! That’s what this is all about. They’ve said in interviews how they’ve tried to dissuade the more lunk-headed element of punk’s clientele from attending their shows. They’ve managed this by being intelligent. You know when your teacher told you to use a little bit more of this *points to head* and a little bit less of this *points to mouth*? MTX paid perfect head to the old fool.
“That Prozac Moment”- remember when Prozac was cool? “I need a Doctor Frank-ectomy” he shouts at one point. Nobody needs that at all.
It ends with “You’re The Only One”, an acoustic album-finale sing along that degenerates into a feedbacked up distortathon (qf “F.O.D.” by Green Day). Beautiful lyrics, I’m pretty sure I’ve cried to this song at some points in my life. “It’ll all come out when its discovered/ Clearer than the teardrop in my eye”. Like I said, the punk Smiths.
And then its over. It takes up exactly 36 minutes of your life, but stays with you a heck of a while longer. As for the band, they’ve continued to not make any impact on the mainstream (look, even the fucking Donnas are big off Lookout, now. What’s wrong with the world momma?). Dr Frank runs his own pro-war blog (LOLDISMEMBERMENTPLANLOL), and they have a new album out… now. I won’t be buying it. This is pretty much all I need from the band. Love is dead, but it sure left a good looking corpse.