Friday, October 22, 2010

Boris the Sprinkler - 8 Testicled Pogo Machine (Bulge Records, 1994)

Fusing class of ’77 three-chord pogo with elements of standup comedy, geek pride, fast-talking disc jockey spiel, Meatmen-style joke thrash, fervent Green Bay Packers fandom, and ‘90s pop-punk, Boris the Sprinkler were beloved in their day but never as critically respected as they should have been. At best, Boris is remembered as a “vehicle” for the great fanzine columnist “Rev.” Norb Rozek. At worst, the group gets written off as a lightweight novelty act good for a few laughs but ultimately lacking any recorded output of enduring value. I would strongly argue that both takes on the Boris legacy are off base. Perhaps you haven’t put on 8 Testicled Pogo Machine and given it a listen in say, 15 years. But if you did, you’d be pleasantly surprised by how much the thing rocks. I told you Boris ruled in 1995, and I’m still telling you Boris rules in 2010!

Ignore for a moment the outrageous live shows that were something in between performance art and improv night at the comedy club. Ignore for a moment the irreverence, absurdity, and outright wackiness of Rev. Norb’s lyrics. Ignore for a moment the antler helmet, the assorted spoken word intros, and the covering of the Circle Jerks’ Group Sex in its entirety. What do you have left with Boris the Sprinkler? Some of the best poppy punk rock of its time – chock full of hooks and bristling with Energizer bunny vivacity. One just needs to take a look at the bands Boris covered – Undertones, Rezillos, Generation X – to understand where Green Bay’s finest was coming from. And like all good “modern” punk bands, Boris came at the melodic side of ’77 punk from its own angle. In this case, we’re talking the angle at which the band members were repeatedly dropped on their heads as small children. But behind all of the glorious stupidity and goofball frivolity and demented d.j. vocals were honest-to-goodness killer tunes.

Album opener “Drugs and Masturbation”, based on song title alone, is testament to the genius of its creators. But it’s not just a great idea – it’s one of the true CLASSIC punk tracks of the mid-‘90s. Imagine if the Dickies had taken on Tesco Vee as lead singer, gotten hopped up on SweetTarts and Wisconsin cheese, and found themselves locked in a room for hours on end with the first Devo album spinning non-stop. It’s zany for sure, but catchy as all get-out and supremely pogo-licious – buoyed by a sing-along chorus that would do Sham 69 proud. And once you’ve paid homage to the two pastimes that sustained the typical punk kid in 1995, where do you go from there? You move on to the refined, more “adult” punk rocker rites of passage, like pursuing underage girls (“One-Three”), obsessing over comic books (“Hey Professor Flutesnoot”), and rejecting the only female who’ll have you (“Get Out of My Life”). Throw in numerous references to fast food joints, super heroes, TV characters, and classic punk bands, and you’ve got yourself a party! But while the hilarity factor and bad taste quotient are admirably pushed to the brink, this is far from a comedy album. It kicks serious ass, and many of these tunes (e.g. “Gimme Gimme Grape Juice”, “She’s Got a Lighter”) are among the most iconic of all Boris numbers.

One could argue that the signature Boris sound is best exhibited on the group’s second album Saucer to Saturn, but there’s something highly enjoyable about how all-over-the-place 8 Testicled Pogo Machine is. Styles as disparate as power pop (“The Way It Is”), Johnny Thunders-on-amphetamines punk n’ roll (“West of the East”), warp-speed hardcore (“Drunk”), and straight-up pop-punk (“Girls Like U”) are mixed without rhyme or reason – not to mention the full-on weirdness of seeming throwaways like “Anarchy Bob at the Mayo Clinic” and “Hail Potsylvania”. Say what you want about this disc, but you sure as hell can’t call it “formulaic”. And even if you’re sure to program out a few of the, uh, odder tracks, there’s still enough Grade-A material here to match the best efforts of other cherished mid-‘90s pop-punk acts such as Parasites, The Vindictives, and Sloppy Seconds. If I could pull out just one album to remind me why pop-punk circa ’95-’96 was king, I’d probably reach for The Queers’ Don’t Back Down. But my second selection, without a doubt, would be 8 Testicled Pogo Machine. It rules as much in the era of Aaron Rodgers as it did in the heyday of Brett Favre.

-Josh Rutledge


gunther said...

Ever seen BTS live? Also, did you catch Rev. Norb on "Jenny Jones"?

Rutledge said...

Saw 'em five times over the years, including twice in Green Bay and once in Amish country. Perhaps the most entertaining band I ever saw!

gunther said...

They should've played some shows with Nashville Pussy -- a band I saw five times at their peak. Different styles, for sure, but it wouldn't have been dull.

paul said...

hello, paul#1 here, just want to say your are far to kind! we pretty much just tried to put out a rocking album as we could.