Alien Ant Farm - Up In The Attic
Universal Music Group by Keith Boyd 06.13.06
In Africa, the chieftains of many tribal groups maintain wooden sculptures depicting the power of their male aggression. These carvings are grimacing beasts out of whose penises sprout leering faces. The faces in turn often issue forth many more faces. These heads spring out of every orifice and with bared teeth, threaten in every direction. These forms are highly prized and fiercely protected. They are given offerings of food, millet beer, milk and even blood to ensure that their power remains intact and strong. It strikes me that this externalized embodiment of male energy and sexuality has many parallels in our own culture. Consider the SUV. These massive, barge-like vehicles are treated with the same deference and passion shown by the African chieftains towards their sculptures. We rub them and shine them. We feed them massive offerings of gasoline and accessorize them with everything from custom license plates to spinning rims. These vehicles have gone from being a conveyance to transport one from point A to point B into another type of conveyance altogether. These vehicles transport and transmit our status, energy and power to the outside world. From within their fortress-like environs we gaze out upon an inferior and diminished world. The message is clear, "I have power! I have money! Look upon my mightiness and fear me!" I suppose that men have always fetishized vehicles. While it's an old joke that a large vehicle is a type of compensation for some lack in masculinity, I think that the opposite is actually the truth. Men love these outsized vehicles because they project and embody the power men have enjoyed and enforced throughout most of human history. The aggressive spirit of male energy is often Siamese-twinned with male sexuality. Rape is a male crime. Its prevalence in all societies, throughout all time is emblematic of the underlying frustration that males experience in trying to assert control and dominance over others. Of course we are speaking in generalities here. We're looking at a big picture scenario and trying to make sense of the symbols of male power and aggression so common in our world. By no means is every man a rapist. Not even owners of Hummers!
Another vehicle for this same energy is music. One only needs to check out the lyrics of certain rap and metal artists or view the imagery of most videos to have a vivid experience of the same paradigm being played out. A particular genre of music that seems to combine the various threads of male aggression, control, sexuality and power is "Nu-Metal". Nu-Metal was born, flourished and died between the mid 90's to the early 00's. During these years groups such as Limp Bizkit, Korn and Papa Roach seemed both ubiquitous and inescapable. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that this same era saw the ascendancy of the SUV. The big beats and distorted guitars were overlayed with minimal DJ scratching and singers who used the cadence and rhythm of rap to scream their lyrics. One of the B-list bands to emerge from this same scene was Alien Ant Farm. While at times showcasing a wry and wacky humor, they were also purveyors of the worst tendencies of the genre. After overcoming a few years of personal tragedy (a tour bus accident) they are back with the new album, "Up in the Attic" (Universal Music Group). In the press release drummer Mike Cosgrove speaks of their band's sound undergoing a de-evolution.
"We needed someone to give us the greenlight to quit trying to showcase our musical prowess and get back to what we liked as kids when we'd rock out in our bedrooms. Being typical artists we wanted to 'mature and grow.' We wanted to say, 'See, we can play jazz chords or Latin.'".
I suppose this back to basics statement is meant to be a positive development. But what is so noble about rejecting your hard won musical prowess? It strikes me as a cop-out, this musical pandering to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps the members of Alien Ant Farm feel that by dumbing down their music they can return to the glory days of Nu-Metal and make another run of it. The sad face of this retreat brings to mind the lyrics of a song by punk rock stalwarts Youth Brigade.
"Turn back, turn back! We must turn back to find the life we once lead, it can not be dead. We're men of a different time!"
Although I question the need in the year 2006 for another Alien Ant Farm release, I suppose I should give some consideration to the music. While there is nothing particularly bad about the tunes, there is also nothing particularly good either. The problem is that nothing seems to stand out. Despite a few acoustic forays and a bit of ska here and there, it's all one big sound-alike. The monotony is so pervasive that listening to a minute of any of the songs is as good as listening to all of them. Essentially there are no big surprises and not much in the way of originality. One bright note is that Alien Ant Farm has toned down some of the aforementioned aspects of male aggression. Perhaps for their next outing they'll also make some good music.
Purchase album now.