Last week produced one of the oddest items I've ever taken home from a second-hand store. No, it wasn't Volume One of The Onion's Finest News Reporting collection with a strange insect glued to the first page. While the dead invertebrate and spoof articles under headings such as "Christ Returns To NBA," "Clinton Deploys Vowels To Bosnia" and "Area Bassist Fellated" were plenty peculiar, it was a clone version of my favorite board game that instantly brought to mind the consonants W, T and F. To my mind, SCRABBLE is a wonderfully constructed masterpiece which can be equally enjoyed by a ten-year-old tyke and his ten-years-shy-of-a-century great-grandfather. On the other hand, SCRAMBLE is a jumbled mess of a pastime that defecates all over SCRABBLE inventor Alfred Mosher Butts' original intentions. The saboteur's box art promises an interlocking board, sturdy tiles, a bag, score sheets, tile racks and a bonus "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" game. Unfortunately, the removal of plastic paints a much different portrait. A folded sheet of paper with the appropriate 225-squared design serves as the playing area. The tiles (English on one side, Arabic on the flip) have to be cut with scissors from a grid. Score sheets and the bag are nowhere in sight. The racks are made from hard plastic. Regis Philbin's baby is out with the bath water. All flaws understood, what makes SCRAMBLE most unplayable is the faulty number of tiles assigned to each letter. One blank? Less than twelve Es? Perhaps a "bingo" (when all seven tiles on the rack are used in a single turn, earning a 50-point bonus) in this pisstake is called a "bimbo." Hey, why not have twenty Qs? It would make sense to Shaquille O'Neal, at least. SHAQTUS!!! SHAQTASTIC!!! SHAQEDELIC!!! SHAQAZULU!!!
The languages spoken by Naked Raygun are much easier to translate. This Windy City quartet's past communications have included readings from the fake books of Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks and Wire. An energetic mix of street punk with arty touches dictated early essentials such as "New Dreams," "Metastasis," "Soldier's Requiem," "Backlash Jack" and "Home Of The Brave." These compositions would later come to my attention via musical backtracking, but hearing the first cut from Understand? on 92.1 WOFM was more of a Rosetta Stone than the Spanish I'd been taught by an irrepressible instructor at Green Run High School. "Treason" perfectly conveys distrustful feelings of those in power ("In their faces I see lies/While they try to hide their eyes"). Endlessly questioning the world in which one inhabits, the position of governing your own affairs becomes top priority ("What I feel makes me alive/Goes beyond what they decide"). Jeff Pezzati's martial chants (enough "Whoas!" for a Misfits Fiend Club meeting in Lodi, NJ), John Haggerty's nervy guitar, Pierre Kezdy's thick bass and Eric Spicer's on-a-dime drumming launch the missile command with a 100,000 pound trackball. But there are more Scuds pointed in your direction. Ten-hut, soldier!
When the Delta Force imposes Americanization on little Spanish-speaking countries, the charge will not be led by a "Hips Swingin'" Southern boy with a curled lip. Instead, a muscular version of Peter Garrett (remember the bald-headed giant from Midnight Oil?) donned in Mad Max gear will perform the majority of the pelvis-grinding. Promising the nations in the takeover will "still have a bit of their own personality left," homegrown bananas are slated to join imported peanut butter in the form of sandwiches. How's that for diplomacy? A protestor from Honduras with the unusual code name of Skippy is not too happy being on the Dole, so he hides behind thick brush and starts humming a few bars of "The Sniper Song." But the cue-ball commander already has a rifle-toting GI stationed in a blind ("Peering down through my scope with an amoral code/The view is fantastic/From my aerie on high/I laugh at your pleading"). Finally fed up with their leader's halo for a hat, mutiny occurs when the Force peels off fatigues and tells "Garrett" there's been entirely "Too Much Of You" ("I see you think you're a savior/You think you're Jesus Christ/From what I've seen of our shepherds/Your type had best think twice/Your master plan to save me/Just doesn't suit me right"). "Wonder Beer" is the celebratory drink of choice, as the Force toasts cold ones with Skippy and the bunch. Though imbibing is as much of a daily exercise for these guys as push-ups, three acclaimed fitness coaches are sought to improve the regimen ("Drunk again - where is Lou Reed?/Come on, Iggy - tell me true/Wish Roy Orbison could tell me what to do").
Naked Raygun's SHAQFU is better than your SHAQFU. Understand, Grasshopper?