Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pansy Division: “Quite Contrary” (2016) CD Review

I first got turned onto Pansy Division in 1993 or 1994, when I was in college. I worked at KWVA, and the band’s first disc was in the stacks there, and song titles like “Femme In A Black Leather Jacket” and “The Cocksucker Club” made me curious. So I listened to several tracks, and I loved what I heard. And the next album got a lot of airplay as well, especially “Groovy Underwear,” which people just couldn’t get enough of. And then of course there was their great rendition of “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond Of Each Other” from their 1995 release Pile Up. Then, as sometimes happens, I lost track of them after college. But I am excited to get back to them, and their new CD, Quite Contrary, gives me the perfect opportunity. And I’m glad to find they’re just as much fun as I remember them, still writing quirky, humorous rock numbers. But, of course, we’ve all gotten a bit older since then, and Pansy Division certainly takes that into consideration; that is, their own aging. In a song like “Love Came Along,” they refer specifically to their own aging, reminding us of one of their earlier songs, and the changes since then. So perhaps they’re not writing about dicks that can peak at you from around the furniture (that line in “Curvature” still makes me laugh), but they have plenty to stay. Most of these songs are originals, the only cover being “It’s A Sin,” the Pet Shop Boys song (which still sounds suspiciously like Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” to me).

Pansy Division kicks off the new album with “He’s Trouble,” which has a great punk energy, but also a bit of a fun early rock and roll thing in the “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” and “Down, down, weighing him down” backing vocals. And the line “He’s always broke, but always has a drink” paints for me a very vivid image. We all know this guy, right? That’s followed by “Love Came Along,” a delightful song about sex and love and how sometimes they’re combined. And yes, they address how their goals have changed as they’re getting older. This song opens with a reference to “I’m Gonna Be A Slut”: “I once wrote a song about being a slut/Nothing meant more to me than busting a nut/Now I’ve grown older and that life ain’t making the cut.” (Interestingly, the first verse of “I’m Gonna Be A Slut” begins with this line: “The older that I get the less I want to settle down.”) There is a sense of humor to this song, acknowledging that sometimes it’s more fun to hear about sex than love, ending with these lines: “I’m the happiest guy in the world now that love came along/I know you’ll grow tired of hearing it, so I’m ending this song.”

Several of these songs are love songs, actually. Take “Kiss Me At Midnight (New Year’s Eve),” for example, a really good tune in which they sing, “’Cause I know how I want to bring the year to an end/So kiss me at midnight on New Year’s Eve/Ring in the New Year with me.” It’s unabashedly sweet. “I’m The Friend” is a song about being the person others confide in, lean on, but don’t date, the person always hoping for more. It’s a different kind of love song. Check out these lines: “Not the one you’re waiting to see/Overlooked/Taken for granted/Know my role even when I can’t stand it.” Interestingly, “My Heart Aches For You” is also about being in love with a friend. “Though I love that we’re close friends/I hate that’s where it ends.” Both “I’m The Friend” and “My Heart Aches For You” were written by Jon Ginoli.

“Blame The Bible” is one of the CD’s best songs. This is the first song I heard from this album, the song that got me excited about this release, the song that let me know the band is still putting out great material, that they still have something to say. I think this is among the best songs the band ever recorded, with lines like “Promoting all the Bible’s libel with words but not their deeds.” It’s the perfect song for our election year. Though I have the urge to include the entire set of lyrics here, I’ll refrain. Here is just a taste: “Isn’t it about time we gave up on Christianity?/I mean really, it’s so unnecessary and so deceitful/Using verses from the Bible to validate their hate/Just look at all the damage they’ve caused/So let’s take away the one thing they use to perpetuate this worldwide fraud/And tear up the Bible.”

Another personal favorite is “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old,” in part because I can relate to it so well, with lines like “I’ve got more aches and pains than I used to/And now I’ll avoid a big crowd.” But it’s also kind of a bright, peppy number, which is wonderful, keeping the lyrics from being depressing. I love this song, even before the whistling. I ended up listening to this track over and over, wanting to memorize the lyrics. Of course, my brain can’t seem to retain the lyrics to new songs (another part of getting older), but I was able to retain the chorus, “Is this what it’s like, is this what it’s like/Is this what it’s like getting old?” Well, as they sing here, “I don’t want no sympathy, but my mind ain’t what it used to be.”  “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old” was written by Chris Freeman.

“Too Much To Ask” is another song, sadly, that is perfect for our times, with the band asking, “Is a small amount of courtesy just too much to ask?” This is a common topic of discussion among my friends, how somehow it’s become acceptable to be unreliable. It used to be a trait that people would not admit to, and now shockingly people have embraced this awful bit about themselves rather than trying to improve. “To simply show up at a time and date that’s set/To merely keep your word, is that too hard a task?

CD Track List
  1. He’s Trouble
  2. Love Came Along
  3. You’re On The Phone
  4. Kiss Me At Midnight (New Year’s Eve)
  5. Halfway To Nowhere
  6. Work On It, Babe
  7. I’m The Friend
  8. Blame The Bible
  9. Mistakes
  10. It’s A Sin
  11. My Heart Aches For You
  12. (Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old
  13. Too Much To Ask
  14. Something Beautiful 
Quite Contrary is scheduled to be released on September 9, 2016 on Alternative Tentacles Records.

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