Looking around the internet, you’ll be hard pressed to find any reviews of Mindless Self Indulgence’s high strung industrial-punk-rap classic, Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy. Perhaps it’s because most of the record’s fans are kids who are more inclined to post about it on a message board than to blog about it, or because the album’s incredibly over-the-top nature makes critics shy away from touching the subject. Or maybe it’s because it’s old, dating from the year 2000, which in internet time is more like 100 years ago than 10.
James Euringer is also getting old. He started MSI at the relatively late age of 28, and was 41 this year on the release of his newest record, the Left Rights’ Bad Choices Made Easy. A casual observer wouldn’t know. Bad Choices feels like the work of brazen college boys, filled with fart jokes, prank calls, lyrics about jacking off to suburban high school girls, and a sense of overall playfulness that most people have long since abandoned by their 40th year. Euringer is trying to keep it real on this album, and in some places it feels like MSI’s early work on Tight and Frankenstein Girls: high-speed, stuttering songs barely over a minute long loaded with a breathless feeling of sexual urgency, disaffected post-teen angst, and a sharp and shameless sense of humor.
Sometimes it’s really funny, as in “I’m On Crack,” where Euringer loudly declares amid ghettofied nursery rhyming that “asian people love gum,” and repeats it for good measure. Like much of MSI’s successful material, this is stupid (and “random”), but it works because of the charm with which it’s presented. This front-loaded song is probably the high point of the record’s attempt to fuse MSI’s stylistic approach with the kind of poor-man’s-Ween aesthetic that defines the Left Rights. The album can be divided into genre-traveling musical experiments, masturbatory in-jokes that don’t bear repeat listening, and the aforementioned attempts to recapture early MSI.
The latter tracks are definitely the high points of the album. “Xyzpdqbgs” sounds like a Frankenstein Girls b-side that jacked the guitar solo from Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic,” with Euringer relating a story about how he was told by a girl to examine his zipper, and reminding us that “there’s no excuse for your dick to be out/without the malt liquor.” “Whistling Dixie” is very much in the same spirit, with Euringer resurrecting his alarmingly powerful faggot-cum-gangster, confident-because-I-have-nothing-to-lose act that made the early MSI albums so exhilarating.
While it’s refreshing to see these guys return to scalding songs that are barely over a minute long, at times it feels like Euringer’s license to thug has expired. When he exclaims “I know what it takes to make things worse/and I know what it takes to put a nigger in a hearse,” it’s hard not to cringe. It’s been a long time since his jaw-dropping cover of “Bring the Pain,” and since then MSI has become a lot less hood and a lot more Hot Topic, even releasing an EP that was sold exclusively there. While you can’t blame them for wanting to cash in, there’s a certain inexorable link between catering to suburban teenagers and losing your street cred, and it’s pretty obvious that Euringer wouldn’t pull out the n-word on a proper MSI album at this point. He wants the Left Rights to be the place where he can still be real(ly crass), but the problem is that even on this album he’s going for some obvious Hot Topic cash-ins.
This is epitomized by “Genesis 16:12,” Euringer’s ode to the game consoles of his youth. This song actually contains the line “Genesis does what Ninten-fucking-don’t,” and a claim that he was a “pre-teen” in the early 1990s. Anyone can do the math and tell you that isn’t true. The song feels like someone saved every cliche about being an “oldschool gamer” that they saw on 4chan and then tried to put it all into rhyming lyrics. It sounds like it could be a Weird Al song if it didn’t curse so much, and half of the lyrics have probably been printed on t-shirts before. MSI has always been flagrantly out to profit from their music, and the way the greed was played for laughs made it endearing. The problem is that in order to be a whore, you need to be charming, and the charm is starting to wear thin here.
Despite these signs of decline, which are fairly typical for a punk-gone-popular band, and despite the large amount of dreck that this 41-track album has, it’s still worth a listen. The flagship track, “White,” is super catchy and smirk-inducing, as played-out as the concept of ragging on spoiled white kids is at this point. “Super Suburb Chix” is in the same territory, and makes you forgive Euringer for pretending to be younger than he is as he rocks a wicked beat and sings a still-impressive falsetto. The rest of the album is a grab bag of gimmicky-but-cute experiments (“Free Porn”), Ween-esque genre parodies (“Ass in My Face”), and a lot of songs which ride or cross the fine line between funny shit you want to send to your friends and shit that’s just too stupid to listen to more than once. The most bizarre is probably “Hopeless,” which starts out sounding like License to Ill, morphs into a Trey Parker rock song parody, and then finishes up sounding like early Nine Inch Nails.
Your mileage with this record may vary, depending on how high you are and what your tolerance level is for silly, self-indulgent music. Mindless Self Indulgence was always a tongue-in-cheek label for a band with knack for producing a powerful catharsis by tapping into feelings of alienation and sexual frustration, but on Bad Choices it often feels like they’ve grown into the name.