OK, at one time, the Dead Milkmen were my band. As a young squirt I collected all their albums, and the first punk show I ever went to was the Dead Milkmen at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit. It wasn't the last time I saw them, either. I was a little obsessed with this band in the late '80s and early '90s. They had this great jangly punk rock sound, but it was their lyrics and attitude that really sold me. They were satirical and often blatantly political - but they were funny about it. Their message was essentially "sure, we're pissed off. And these are the things we're pissed off about. But that doesn't mean we can't joke about them."
They were snotty and rude, but they were intelligent about it. They simply pointed out that sarcasm was more fun, and more effective, than outright anger. And it took a lot less energy.
In Detroit, they had a little extra attention due to the efforts of Detroit Tiger Jim Walewander. He was such a vocal fan of the band that they were mentioned on his rookie card, and they even came to see him play. They may have been from Philadelphia, but that really helped their Detroit connection.
In 1995, the band decided to call it quits, after bassist Dave Blood (Dave Schulthise) developed tendonitis in his hands so bad that it was too painful for him to play. Even so, I always entertained hope that they would get back together, until Blood committed suicide in 2004.
After that, the band played just a few reunion shows in their hometown and at places like SXSW and Fun Fun Fun Fest, with Dan Stevens of The Low Budgets on bass, with proceeds from the shows going to various charities in honor of Blood's memory. These shows proved to be successful, and the band decided to continue on, playing out occasionally and writing new material, which brings us to...
The King In Yellow
Their first album in over 16 years.
Unlike other albums by bands that I've grown up liking that returned after a long absence to make a fast moneygrab with records and shows that are pale comparisons to what they once were, the Dead Milkmen are on top of their game, cranking music with a vigor that suggests they're really, really happy to be back. Their off-kilter sound and off-key vocals that have always worked are still readily apparent, and the band seems not at all mellowed by the years.
The opening track, "The King In Yellow/William Bloat" marks a pretty majestic return. Opening with a melodic Americana instrumental, it's a purely sentimental reintroduction to a band that I devoted so much of my teenage years, and after a minute and a half, it slams into pure Dead Milkmen punk rock, with the jangly melodies and the off-key vocals that have always marked the band (Listen/Download).
High points on the record (and there are many) include "Fauxhemia" (Listen/Download) a Minutemen-inspired blast of noise in which admits that the band doesn't get Norah Jones, "Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song" (Listen/Download), which grabs the schizophrenic vibe of previous classic Milkmen songs like "Stuart," and "Some Young Guy," which details a creepy stalking obsession with a Best Buy employee (Listen/Download) - and this song is the perfect gateway to mentioning the other theme predominant in the record.
Along with the Milkmen's trademark sounds are an underlying creepiness, and an obsession with death - but in a distinctly irreverent way, like the Milkmen have always had. It's like they were tasked with making an album of murder ballads, and this is what they came up with. It has a creepy factor that falls flat, too funny and too silly to be truly morbid, like a kid trying to tell a scary story around a campfire, but too wrapped up in juvenile humor to truly inject it with any horror.
"Cold Hard Ground" is a little bit of Americana that drops a twangy bit of silliness on top of fiddles for a bit of pure goofiness (Listen/Download), "13th Century Boy" pairs a farfisa sound with rants about a deteriorating society (Listen/Download), and The King In Yellow wraps up with "Solvents (For Home and Industry)" where they make fun of a small-town beauty queen as a transparent metaphor to point out how chemically-polluted the world in general is (Listen/Download) - another theme the band has carried for years on other classic tunes like "Watching Scotty Die."
While their outlook on life may seem a bit bleaker - and really, who could blame them? Recent years for the band have been marred by tragedy - the Dead Milkmen have returned with the sound, energy, attitude and humor that has always made them a fun band with messages that only sink in on later listens, because you were having too much fun the first time around to truly get the point.
Release Date - October 25, 2011