This edition of BHYH features a bizarro mix of weird-o bachelor pad essentials and a perhaps forgotten gem of bubblegum goth (yes, it exists). Read below to see what The Grumps are listening to this week!
PLAYBOY MANBABY, DON’T LET IT BE
The name “Playboy Manbaby” introduces an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, “Playboy” – a sophisticate, a jet-setter, possibly wearing an ascot, easing into a leather love seat in his Greenwich Village bachelor pad with a Scotch on the rocks to read the latest Norman Mailer piece in the magazine which bears that name. On the other hand, “Manbaby” – doughy miscreant, potato-shaped body shoved into a pizza-stained sweat suit, settling in to a bean bag chair to watch the latest Star Wars cartoon series so he can yell on his YouTube channel about how cucked it is. Thesis, antithesis: Playboy Manbaby.
This swinging sextet from dusty Phoenix, Arizona are a bunch of lowlives living the high life. The whole aesthetic of Playboy Manbaby is the soundtrack to a cool guy’s life as interpreted by a total spaz. Their musical DNA splices bouncy ’60s rhythms with grimy post-punk guitars, a hardcore screech, and a hearty helping of camp. A trumpet and a saxophone play jazzy stings that bring a bright European chamber-pop feel to one hooky song after another. The band’s lyrics depict arrested development, petty criminality, personality disorder and social dysfunction. The deeply uncool members of Playboy Manbaby, led by the inscrutable Robbie Pfeffer, display a refreshing lack of seriousness, at all times leaning in to their spazzitude. Bizarre costumes (frequently involving cross-dressing), awkward dancing, and absurdist comedy bits characterize their music videos and live shows.
I recently saw Playboy Manbaby open up for another band and later picked up their 2017 release Don’t Let It Be on the recommendation of the frontman himself. It’s just a damn good time. When I listen to it I feel like I’m sitting in some West End go-go club in 1966, only I somehow smuggled six Four Lokos and some Adderall back into the past and I’m getting rowdy and whipping the cans at the sideburned hipsters who are gawking at my tattered Dead Milkmen shirt.
Hit play and discover: Playboy Manbaby’s unpolished, motley exterior hides a group of capable, assured musicians, with Chad Dennis’s wide dynamic range going from ride cymbal assaults to soft jazzy comping, and the wind assault of David Cosme on trumpet and Austin Rickert on saxophone offer everything from soft tone color to brash big band stings. There’s not a lot of self-consciousness on display here – the band’s freewheeling, collaborative spirit lets them roll and ooze effortlessly from one genre or another. The cheeky horns on “You Can Be A Fascist Too” will get anyone’s toe tapping. Jagged post-punk guitar on “Self-Loathing in Cheap Clothing” bleeds into a discordant spy-movie horn crescendo that makes you wish Wire would do the next Bond theme. Pfeffer drawls sardonically over a ye-ye rhythm in “Cheap Whine” before tearing it open with a raspy scream. The album closes out with a slow graveyard blues “White Jesus” (with the ever adaptable Pfeffer doing his best Tom Waits) that bursts into a galloping punk tempo. The best songs on Don’t Let It Be are bangers, and even the worse ones are still boppers. It’s good time music.
Playboy Manbaby will never be cool. God bless ‘em. — Tyler Peterson
Frank Sinatra, “MRS. ROBINSON”
I’ll explain why I’m recommending the most ill-conceived cover song in music history.
My first interaction with Frank Sinatra’s career this year came when I watched The Pride and the Passion. It’s fascinating because Frank Sinatra gives one of the worst performances captured in a mainstream Hollywood film. This middle aged Italian from New Jersey plays a Spaniard rebel leader named Miguel. Even when it was common to see Italians portraying Spanish characters like Sal Mineo in Giant, Sinatra stands out in an appalling fashion.
Soon after that, I was looking for something to read, and came across The Chairman by James Kaplan, a 992 page book that follows Frank Sinatra’s career after he won an Academy Award for From Here To Eternity, resurrecting what most considered to be a dead career. Being someone who enjoys old Hollywood stories, nothing brings me joy like a book that explores things such as Sinatra’s involvement in “The Wrong Door Raid,” where he and a group of men broke into the alleged residence of Marilyn Monroe (it wasn’t) in order to get damaging photos of her cheating on her then husband Joe DiMaggio.
While looking through The Chairman, something else stood out for being as playfully abysmal as Sinatra’s performance in The Pride and The Passion: his 1969 cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”
On Grumpire I once wrote about Skidoo, a disastrous attempt an established Hollywood regime made at connecting with a younger generation. Sinatra’s rendition of “Mrs. Robinson” is a similar experience as you hear a 54-year old singer’s take on a song pulled from a film that helped usher in a cool, edgier era of mainstream filmmaking. This version changes a majority of the lyrics. Out of all of the ridiculous additions my favorite might be:
And you’ll get yours, Mrs. Robinson
Foolin’ with that young stuff like you do
BOO HOO HOO!
Woo woo woo!
The best part about this failed experiment is that there’s no outside party trying to hip Frank Sinatra up. From the mid-1950s on, Sinatra did as he pleased. No matter whether it was a hit or a miss, he was responsible. While this cover is enjoyable for all the wrong reasons, Sinatra would later find real success in covering a new song when he did his rendition of “New York, New York.” Not only have people forgotten it was initially made famous as the theme to a Martin Scorsese film performed by Liza Minnelli, but the New York Yankees immortalized it when they began playing Sinatra’s version after every victory, and Minnelli’s version after every loss. Can you believe Liza Minnelli voiced her anger about this until the Yankees stopped dragging her rendition through a chewing tobacco-stained dugout?
I’m aware Sinatra’s cover of “Mrs. Robinson” is a questionable recommendation. But in case you’re in the mood for a generation gap single as preposterous as watching Jackie Gleason trip on LSD, I’m putting it on your playlist. — Emilio Amaro
THE GOTHIC ARCHIES, THE NEW DESPAIR
The Magnetic Fields snuck up into 2020 by releasing their first EP in three years; the aptly titled Quickies is a collection songs that all have a runtime of two minutes or less. The track at the forefront is a tongue-in-cheek, wishful-yet-melancholy supposition of how society might function so much more effectively if all the world’s politicians just up and died. It’s called “The Day The Politicians Died,” and it’s wonderfully poetic. The song’s February release has had me revisiting much of The Magnetic Fields’ previous work, including leader Stephen Merritt’s various other projects throughout the years. Which leads me to my recommendation this week: a true ‘90s hidden gem, the 1997 EP release The New Despair from The Gothic Archies.
“Bubblegum goth” seems like a term too cute for anyone to handle, but it’s precisely how this record should be described. Each song on The New Despair is written and performed in a minor key, giving off that sad feeling that’s only related to pure sensory dissonance. But in tracks like “City of the Damned” and “The Tiny Goat” especially, there’s a bounce that makes listeners feel oddly comfortable — maybe even…happy? (Speaking of “happy,” if you’re looking for some nostalgia pron, you might find it in “Your Long White Fingers,” which was featured a bit in Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete.) The juxtaposition of the name The Gothic Archies was more apparent in a pre-Riverdale world, too; bubblegum goth, indeed.
I feel like this kind of record is perfect for spring, when the Earth is waking up from the desolation of winter, but hasn’t quite wiped all the sleep out of its eyes. You know, sometimes when something exists inside the “in between” of a dichotomy, it’s less of a “lost in limbo” feeling and more of a “fits perfectly” one. — elbee