Do you remember plays like Godspell or Hair that tried to squeeze the seismic repercussions of the '60s counterculture into musical theater, to really freak out the squares. Now imagine if someone were to attempt to do something similar with punk, telling a dystopian, slipstream alternate history where punk never happened, and what that future might look like. It's a bizarre mish-mash of The Who's Tommy, Philip K. Dick's The Man In The High Tower, Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and a handful of glam and punk influences.
The problem is, the idea of a speculative fiction musical theater concept album is about as punk as a Hillary Clinton convention. Punk this is not.
What we're left with is a loose, musical theater concept album, steeped in mod, glam, and rock n’ roll. If you like those styles, you'll probably get into Pretty Mugs self-titled debut Pretty Mugs just fine. Fans of New York Dolls or T Rex will likely get down to these choppy Gibson riffs, with paranoid Elvis-like vocals overtop, like Lux Interior after a two day speed bender, ripping through his Lightning Hopkins LPs in search of inspiration. The vocal style, however, can be a little too samey-same, with songs tending to blur together. You can be left wondering how long this never-ending song is going to go on.
The guitar tones are pretty consistent, as well, favoring a sparkling, chiming, chorus-like sound, like early R.E.M. Reading through the broadsheet, Pretty Mugs cite television and wire as seminal influences, both of whom influenced R.E.M., so that makes sense.
Honestly, the more I listen to Pretty Mugs, the more into it I become. It may not be punk, but there's more to life than snarling, howling revolution all the time. Instead, Pretty Mugs remind me of glammy rock n’ roll, not too far from early AC/DC or even Bruce Springsteen. At this point, that brand of blue-collar rock n’ roll seems even more pertinent than the hyper-adrenalized soundtrack of youth revolt of bands like MDC or Bad Brains, when they weren't playing reggae.
Rock music, and most blues-derived music, seems to be, at the end of the day, about going out, having a good time, and blowing off some steam. It's the intersecting point between a huge metal festival in the German forest and a honky-tonk saloon on a Saturday night. One might be lit with an Old Style neon sign, while the other is illuminated with burning torches, but it's ultimately the same thing. It's about being wild and free, doing your own thing and not letting yourself be controlled.
At this point, the idea of punk is dangerous, as it's too easy for someone to staple on a costume and have a built in revolution that requires zero thought or self-analysis. Stripped down, working class rock n’ roll is more punk than punk, in that capacity.
So strap yourself into your Teenage Rocket, get ready for Saturday night, don't worry, and have a good time. It's not that pretty.
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