By Cait Brennan
Fred Schneider rarely gets his due as a rock legend. One of the most original voices and imaginative storytellers of the New Wave, Schneider brought weird and wonderful absurdist lyrics, a fearless outsider sensibility, and his unique sprechstimme delivery into the rock mainstream. The discrete charm of Fred’s voice and lyrical style are lost on some people, but despite an army of jokesters’ best efforts, Schneider is truly inimitable.
Sad, then, that despite a relentless touring schedule, in the past 18 years his groundbreaking band the B-52s have managed only one new studio release, 2008′s Funplex. The prolific Schneider has participated in dozens of other projects during those years, but none have captured his own brand of madness better than Destination . . . Christmas!, the new album with his band The Superions.
Schneider formed the Superions in 2006 with friends Noah Brodie and Dan Marshall. The “band” began as a private lark among pals—the group was originally named The Del Morons—but the results turned out to be far more fun and productive than anyone intended. The simplicity of recording with friends seems to have brought out the best in Schneider, who spins some of his most inventive and bizarre lyrics in years. Destination . . . Christmas! shares with the B’s records an emphasis on party-friendly dance beats and head-turning wordplay. Without the enforced good-timey juggernaut of the B’s post-”Love Shack” career, Schneider is free to explore darker and weirder places. Like, say, turning Santa into fondue.
The leadoff single is a paean to that holiday treat everyone loves to hate. Schneider’s gleefully maddening repetition of “Fruitcake” will lodge itself in your brain and leave you begging for a rum-soaked bludgeoning. Brodie and Marshall lay down a kinetic Casio beat while Schneider unleashes a list of ingredients for a decidedly non-kosher fruitcake recipe. Late in the song Fred admonishes that the recipe will “kill you dead,” but for some listeners, it may already be too late. The handcrafted video is a priceless romp in which two love-struck giant fruitcakes rampage through a very gay city, stealing cars and having baked-goods intercourse. (Okay, I can officially stop using “baked-goods intercourse” as my Amazon PayPhrase.)
“Crummy Christmas Tree” almost sounds like the theme from an alternate-universe ’60s/’70s Christmas special—sort of a third cousin to Hermey the Dentist’s lament—though the titular conifer fares substantially worse than Romeo Muller’s gayest creation. An off-kilter chorus sings as Fred tells the tragic story of the little tree that “wasn’t good enough” to find a buyer. It all ends well, if you hate trees.
“Teddy and Betty Yeti” borrows more than a little bit from Giorgio Moroder’s thick synth production on Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” as its disgruntled abominable protagonists get loaded and feast on the hapless inhabitants of Santa’s Workshop. Here especially, Brodie and Marshall demonstrate that they’re fine musicians whose winking melodic references and deadbeat-club sensibilities are well matched to Schneider’s out-there holiday vignettes.
And while jolly ol’ Saint Nick does get murdered once or twice, there is some small compensation: In “Santa Je T’aime” the ol’ boy gets his end in with a sort of club-beat spoof of “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus” complete with an orgasmic Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin vibe.
The holiday sex doesn’t stop there; In “Jingle Those Bells” Schneider lays out a 1960s strip-club burlesque come-on that features perhaps the finest use of synthesized tuba in the history of recorded music. “Under The Tree” spins the classic urban legend about your parents (well, someone’s parents) shoving the gifts out of the way and doing it . . . um, under the tree. And in “Chillin’ at Christmas,” Schneider sketches a fatal Christmas-fetish holiday assignation involving an avalanche, a Snuggie, and “a plug-in” presumably made by Glade, but in Fred’s version of Christmas there are no guarantees.
While it might be a mistake to over-analyze Schneider’s lyrics, likewise it’d be foolish to dismiss them as totally light, insubstantial party rhymes. His stories of lesser known misfit toys, murderous snow creatures, domestic indignities, and sexual frustration neatly encapsulate the anxious undercurrents of the holidays. Santa spends much of the album abdicating his responsibilities in search of booze, beats, and babes (or drinks, dancing, and dudes, as you prefer), like in “Santa’s Disco” where “nothing’s getting done” and all the “children are crying.” “Forget your Christmas wish, ’cause they’re drinking like fish,” he advises.
In “Christmas Tears” Schneider dives head-first into the deepest and most gnawing fears of the “saddest time of year” like “credit card bills,” “relatives with their horrible gifts,” tacky neighbors, emergency dentistry, mouse droppings, panhandling carolers, unwanted zucchini, and “tears at Christmas, just make it go away.” It’s the perfect lament for those times when Christmas is one big pain in the ass.
“Laughter at Christmas” promises to wash away all the album’s anxiety and cannibalism, but while Fred rattles off a final list of cheerful holiday thoughts, an unhinged “Laffing Sal” voice cackles insanely in the background, ensuring this is one holiday memory that won’t end with anybody, anywhere, getting their angel wings.
While most of the beats and melodies are simple and repetitive, they’ll also generate a crop of earworms that will burrow into your hippocampus and stay there long after the holidays are history. Destination . . . Christmas! has all the exuberance and cheerful weirdness of not a party record but an actual party: a group of friends hanging out, drinking substantially too much, telling ever-more-irreverent holiday storie,s and making music strictly for fun. And Fred’s lyrics bounce from insipid to inspired, with enough surprises and laugh-out-loud twists to make it well worth the trip.