"I must have been bit by a spider when I was very young," Country Teasers vocalist Ben Wallers drones on "Spiderman in the Flesh," the opening track to the band's new album, The Empire Strikes Back (In the Red). "Because now I'm grown-up I spend five days a week going up the fucking wall." This wall makes a reprise midway through the tune, as the music ratchets up from a sleepy, two-step waltz to the fascist grandeur of Pink Floyd's The Wall, with a lyrical nod toward "In the Flesh" from that psycho–depresso–nervous breakdown rock opera: "Are there any queers in the theater tonight? Get ’em up against the wall!"
And thus, halfway through the first track, with a borrowed lyric — "jacked from the sonic matrix," as Sonic Youth would say — from a prog rock magnum opus, the Teasers arrive at the type of lowbrow social satire they've turned into high art. Well, high lowbrow art. They take a frail, empty stereotype and strap a rocket pack to its back. Of course it's not going to survive, but it's hilarious to see it zoom about the cosmos, flailing.
Take my personal favorite Teasers tune, "Black Change," from 1996's epic Satan Is Real Again, or Feeling Good about Bad Thoughts (Crypt). In it, the narrator undergoes a transformation akin to John Howard Griffin’s in Black Like Me, "a black change operation." The results? "My dick went long, my hair went fuzzy ... I traded in my white friends for pretty white ladies. My new black body drove them crazy." Ten years later, he's got to go back to the surgeon to have the procedure reversed: "Too much trouble, from those envious white men.... My wife won't touch me.... 'Once you go black,' she says, 'you never go back.'"
In its hyperbole, "Black Change" is the quintessential Country Teasers song. It's satire that's offensive if you do get the joke. It's up there with Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal," which suggested that the Irish eat their children to prevent the latter "from being a burden to their parents or country." Up there with Lou Reed's "I Wanna Be Black,” a song that exposes racism, white guilt, and the white co-opting of black cultural idioms, but does so with lines like "I wanna be like Malcolm X, and cast a hex over President Kennedy's tomb. And have a big prick, too." A song that makes Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher look like the teatime for pussies that it is. Either you get the satire and are loose enough to laugh at the stereotypes that are still imbedded in our culture, or you start getting that itchy feeling up under your collar, afraid that your good liberal friends — the "clean white citizens" in "Black Change" — might hear what you're listening to, and shamefacedly pull the disc from the deck.
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