Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Beelzebubba’ by The Dead Milkmen.
Formed in 1983 and hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Dead Milkmen first came into the consciousness of, well a few people, via Bitchin’ Camaro from their debut ‘Big Lizard In My Backyard’. The template was set for the rest of their career – infectious jangly punk tunes and impudent sideswipes (“buy some Def Leppard T-shirts/don’t forget your Motley Crue T-shirt/you know all proceeds go to get their lead singer outta jail”) delivered in a sardonic Philly dialect.
Four albums in to their career came their biggest success, 1988’s ‘Beelzebubba’, boasting a cover with a compact bulldozer type thing and lead singer Rodney Linderman’s oul fella standing proprietarily next to it. MTV success duly came a-callin’, with Punk Rock Girl finding its way, deservedly, onto the channel’s rotation.
The song is one of those perfect doses of power pop, with a wonderful, shambolic guitar solo that feels as if it’s about to collapse in a fit of convulsive giggles at any moment. Irreverent piss-taking abounds – “and someone played a Beach Boys song/on the jukebox/it was California Dreamin’/so we started screamin’/‘on such a winter’s day’”. Fans of both The Beach Boys and The Mamas & The Papas be warned, The Dead Milkmen have little truck with deference to elder statespersons. Now, having said that, record shop owners take note, ‘cause “if you don’t got Mojo Nixon/then your store could use some fixin’”
Vitriol and scorn is poured over the Coors-drinking frat boys of the album’s brief opener Brat In The Frat, and scathing derision falls on the attendees of the equally succinct Bad Party as The Dead Milkmen settle scores set to music with these jerks and jerks like them. Frat boys won’t find any solace in this record.
Then, amidst all this cynicism, comes The Guitar Song. A question is posed by a kitten, and by the subsequent verses’ equally enamoured baby “playin’ with your rattle and your plastic car”, both asking the same question – “what’s that sound/coming out of the hole in the wood?” Baby takes the final screamed verse (“Hey Mama!”) What is that sound that moves them so? It’s the guitar, of course.
Sri Lanka Sex Hotel references ‘The Killer Inside Me’ long before Michael Winterbottom ever got his hands on it, a momentum-challenging post punk ride detailing a rollercoaster experience, while Bleach Boys depicts the ups and downs of a unique pastime. “I’m very proud of the respect I’ve earned/and my voice is very deep ‘cause my throat got burned/bleach keeps you young so I’ve been told/’cause no one who drinks it lives to get old/drink it with a chaser was the first thing that I learned.” It’s both a celebration and a warning to those who may choose to dabble in the joys of this most versatile of substances – “Bleach does more than whiten socks”
The album’s most fun cut crops up early on with Stuart, an eccentric tale of death and revelation delivered in a raspy conversational vocal. Strip away the vocal on Stuart, though – although why would you want to – and you’re left with an inventive and ridiculously merry instrumental carousel (“keep your head and arms inside The Mixer at all times!”). By the time the tale of Stuart has reached its conclusion, you better believe you’ll want to get your hands on a burrow owl. Factoid hounds, prick up your ears – this one references their first booker, Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster (“He’s a fine kid/ some of the neighbours say he smokes crack but I don’t believe it. Anyway…”)
Homage to The Who crops up in My Many Smells’ “See me/feel me/touch me/smell me” refrain, but that band’s colleagues come in for a different kind of treatise. Ringo Buys A Rifle sees the much-maligned sticksman take revenge on Lennon & McCartney for dubbing his drumming – “Hey Paul, you asshole, dub this.”
All this Beatle bashing, only for the album to take a Beatles-esque, psychedelic gutter punk slant on closer Life Is Shit; lyrically at least – “Would you like to come and sniff some glue?/and we’ll fly to where the skies are blue/and look for things both bright and new.” As the poppy chorus affirms the title line and a chorus of voices join towards the song’s singalong finale it’s as close to anthemic as you’ll get with The Dead Milkmen.
The band continued to release records into the ’90s, until ‘Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig)’ in 1995. This was to be their swansong, but in fact turned out to be a thirteen year hiatus, during which the members pursued various musical paths. Their ninth album, ‘The King In Yellow’, was released in 2011, and the following year the band began releasing a string of 7” records “in an obvious attempt to appeal to a younger ‘hipster’ audience”. You can buy that new album, and those singles, on the band’s website in your own time. For now, though, let’s all get fucked on Clorox. Let’s listen to ‘Beelzebubba’. Let’s go hunt burrow owls.