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Icky Boyfriends - A Love Obscene

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Artist: Icky Boyfriends

Album: A Love Obscene

Label: Menlo Park

Review date: Jul. 7, 2005

Icky Boyfriends were a band that existed righteously in the lost years of 1989 to 1995. Stephen Malkmus just said in a recent interview that “if you can remember the ‘90s, you weren’t there.” That statement resonates deeply in the Ickies music, as those who remember know what kind of damage they tried to wreak … and everybody else wasn’t around to see it.

The band released a handful of 7” singles, cassettes, and full-length albums, even a movie; when all is said and done, this collection of nearly every song the group recorded is as much a celebration of their work as it is a headstone to the freedom rock that era spawned. Lots of you folks don’t remember how the world was before the Internet, pre-dot-com, in the waning years of a war too easily won and a wimp Presidency, when punk often meant punk-funk, and guys looked like Dave Navarro, and smack was king, and a nation of twentysomethings were branded slackers, over-self-educated and with nothing to show for it. Truly ugly times of tribal tattoos and stinky fuckin’ Birkenstocks. Before Nirvana broke, MTV would have had you believe that Michelle Shocked and Transition Vamp and the Lightning Seeds were the alternative to Living Colour and Vanilla Ice, when actually they were just different colors and flavors of the same crap. Subversion took form in the militant hip-hop and Bomb Squad beats, “Heathers” and “Vampire’s Kiss,” the tawdry domestic squabbles that precluded some unseen terror in a Stephen King novel. Cintra Wilson documents these loose times to hilarious effect in her novel Colors Insulting to Nature, as her protagonist lives oppressed, outcast, drug-addled days in the Mission, in some sort of community household where everyone’s taken so much acid that they think they’re elves, waging battles in the park with local groups of the undead bent on harshing the mellows that will send them to a land of eternal bliss.

For all these special ed type scenarios that played out in some sort of countercultural long-long-ago, there were realists just self medicating with booze and pills, books and junk food, funded by some anti-pride job transcribing news broadcasts or working a token booth somewhere. Instruments that former generations of roommates had cast off in warehouse spaces were hoisted up and pummeled like cavemen using the primitive tools that would catalyze evolution. And in that, we have the roots of a band like Icky Boyfriends, who seemed to never even consider being in a band as a generational statement, or for that matter that knowing how to play their instruments would be a reason to start a band.

There is a tremendous freedom in such ignorance; if you remove comparisons to other singers, guitarists, and drummers, and just go at it as it comes naturally, relieved of the need to sound like anyone else. When your main goal is to just jackhammer the one riff you can remember for hours on end and as loud as you can, regardless of domestic and public rejection, anything can happen. Why try to be deep or mystical when a story far more interesting about something that happened to you that day achieves the same effect? Why hold yourselves to the standards of good taste and decency? What do those concepts even mean?

They meant everything and nothing to the Icky Boyfriends, who managed to write catchy and meaningful music anyway, with a matter-of-factness and vulnerability missing from most pop music. Even when guitarist Shea Bond and drummer Anthony Bedard weren’t crafting an unexpected pop miracle, the music was just a vehicle for Jonathan Swift’s lyrics anyway. Someone always covered their collective ass for the two minutes or less that a song would roll on for; it’s a righteous dynamic, and it ensured at the very least listenability for all their material, and often a very memorable song fell out of the mash. Afro’d and nasal, Swift screeches loud-n-proud truisms like a bratty young Ron House, occasionally like a true modern lover (“Nervous Guy,” “Love is Real”) and the rest of the time like a braying, leering friend constantly in trouble and on the verge of collapse, just amazed by the world. On “Passion Assassin” he informs us that “nothing kills passion quicker / than a mouthful of spermicidal jelly.” “I wanna take some PCP / and kill some fuckin’ pigs,” Swift yells in the brief and aptly-titled “Pigs.” Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? “Drug War” reminds us that “if you know your friend is gonna get sick / you gotta help him even though he’s a dick.” Common sense, but how often would you let your buddy rot? Your loyalties are being called into question by these guys! Icky Boyfriends, keepin’ you in check after all these years.

And best of all, you get tons of these notions on A Love Obscene; 57 songs’ worth, more than any right-minded person could possibly listen to in one sitting, but in keeping with their infinite wisdom, there’s always some for later. Think garage bands detuned and defrocked of cool posturing, the kind of band that would constantly bum out the hipsters and drive paying customers out of the venues they’d play, to the endless consternation of soundmen and club owners.

We need this now. And in a sense, we still do have it, though to mention a bunch of other bands’ names in here would do a disservice to the Icky Boyfriends, and to those acts as well.

A while back, I reviewed an awful single for Dusted that was a split between two punk bands who could play OK. And now here’s a review of a double CD of a band who has even less talent and skill, which I adore. Why? Probably because the lame punk bands smacked of effort, were playing music of interest to them that they couldn’t translate. They were trying to sound like someone else; they took round pegs of influence and forced them into square holes of reality, when pegs and holes shouldn’t even figure into punk music until after the show ends. Nobody wants to see ugly people fuck, anyway. So the next time you find yourself at wits’ end at a show while some band wears down your will to live, ask yourself why. You might be right, but you also might be in the presence of those who get “it” – that intangible spirit that separates good rock from the waste – in a way that you haven’t considered. The Icky Boyfriends fall into that category. A Love Obscene extends their chances to enlighten and enrage by a good few more years.

By Doug Mosurock

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