Before They Were Big: Gwar, Pop Will Eat Itself, Oingo Boingo

Published on May 30th, 2009 in: Issues, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Christian Lipski

“Before They Were Big” could also be seen as “Before They Sold Out,” or “Before They Got Good,” depending on your point of view. What I really mean is that these albums are from the artists’ earlier days, before what would become their more popular period. In my own personal opinion, these particular records are some of my favorites from the artists. While I don’t begrudge any band the opportunity to become successful and evolve one’s style, I do like having their earlier stuff around.

gwar hell-o

GWAR, Hell-o!

The first time I encountered the costumed metal band was on the cover of a independent music magazine in a San Francisco record store. There in black-and-newsprint was emblazoned “Oh Fuck! It’s GWAR!” I had to find out more. GWAR’s over-the-top posturing and insane back story instantly appealed to me, and I picked up their debut release. Tongue is firmly in cheek form the get-go, as all the song titles have “heavy metal” diacritical marks over most of the letters, as in “Timè Fôr Deäth” or “Cåptain Crünch.” The song themselves are fairly straight-ahead metal songs with lyrics about the characters’ depraved lifestyles, the American way of life, and oddly enough, Jacques Cousteau. The musicianship is not really anything to write home about, but that’s not the point. The point is to realize that these beings who are playing the instruments are aliens who crashed into the Antarctic thousands of years ago and were thawed out by a sleazy entrepreneur in order to make money in the music industry. This was all in the liner notes, by the way.

While many bands may feel scorn for their fans, GWAR is the only one who actually slaughters them. This album was like a breath of fresh air in the midst of the streamlined pop that ruled the airwaves in the late ’80s. GWAR went on to become more outwardly political, satirizing the religious right in albums like Scumdogs of the Universe and America Must Be Destroyed, but Hell-o! represents the purest incarnation of the crack-smoking scumdogs, and the one nearest to my heart.

box frenzy

Pop Will Eat Itself, Box Frenzy

This album isn’t PWEI’s first, and it’s not even their original sound, but it was before they entered the dance/electronica arena. Box Frenzy was made up of samples and loops and rapping from a couple of white Britons, and in 1987 the only other white guys rapping were the Beastie Boys. I already had License To Ill, so I naturally picked up Box Frenzy. The screaming guitars kept my interest, as did seemingly incongruous samples of Nat King Cole and Marc Bolan. Rather than being a straight rap album, it was a strange hybrid of rock and rap, which was a real oddity. I remember putting the track “She’s Surreal” on a mix for a road trip and watching as my vanmates’ brows furrowed with the effort of deciphering the sounds they were hearing.

For the most part, the album doesn’t really hold up after 22 years, except for the single “There Is No Love Between Us Anymore,” the lyrics for which are the title sung over and over while samples and an electronic groove play in the background. Not a great song to have come on the radio as you are driving with a girlfriend that you have been fighting with. Or at least that’s what I hear. PWEI followed up with This Is the Day . . . This Is the Hour . . . This Is This!, which garnered them some hits, but I think that it was only this small part of their catalog that intersected with my musical tastes, as I didn’t follow up with any subsequent albums.

nothing to fear

Oingo Boingo, Nothing To Fear

I didn’t realize what a skewed view I had of Oingo Boingo’s catalog. For me, the cutoff for their albums is Dead Man’s Party, which included the mega-hit title track and “Weird Science,” and which I dislike terribly. As I looked up OB’s discography, I realized that DMP was released in 1985. So what I consider to be “good” Oingo Boingo is really just three albums spanning the period 1981-1983. So be it!

I loved Oingo Boingo’s percussion-heavy sound, their ominous and slightly dangerous attitude. That’s what’s present on Nothing To Fear, and that’s what was abandoned when they became a suburban party band. I remember seeing the video for “Private Life” for the first time on MTV and feeling a full-body chill when the beautiful bridge played (at 1:45). I had to have the album, and luckily the rest of the songs were equally as good. I had this record playing constantly for weeks. Elfman’s cinematic style and dramatic voice match the odd lyrics perfectly, and listening to the songs now I can instantly recall what it was like to hear them for the first time. Classic and unique sound, from a time when anything was possible in the world of “new wave.”

I guess this collection of records represent what I think are the best periods of the bands’ productivity. In each case, I tended to move away from the later albums after a certain point, thinking that in some way the groups had moved past their prime output. Your mileage may vary, and if so, then good!

One Response to “Before They Were Big: Gwar, Pop Will Eat Itself, Oingo Boingo”

  1. Rev. Syung Myung Me:
    June 2nd, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    I take issue that Boingo’s last record was _Nothing To Fear_… but then, I think _Boingo_ might be my favorite. (Not to knock the others that aren’t _Dark at the End of the Tunnel_. That one can go to hell.)

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