The Dead Milkmen

Pretty Music For Pretty People

The Dead Milkmen often seemed to labor in the shadow of their fellow Philadelphia brethren Ween, especially after ceding the smart-ass musician floor to them and They Might Be Giants with their 1995 dissolution. The Milkmen reunited in 2008 and in 2011 released The King In Yellow. Ween broke up a year later, providing an opening. If Pretty Music For Pretty People definitely lacks a “Punk Rock Girl” to jumpstart their commercial fortunes, it’s nonetheless a good effort showcasing the band's renewed chops and snarky spirit.

With 18 songs and almost an hour of music, it’s a sizable package that acquits itself well, aside from a handful of forgettable tracks (the thin “The Sun Turns Our Patio Into A Lifeless Hell”; the noisy, pointlessly provocative “Ronald Reagan Killed The Black Dahlia”) which recall Jello Biafra’s shrill post-Dead Kennedys material. It’s a notable touchstone, though, for several album tracks recall the DKs. There’s the garage/spy-noir “Welcome To Undertown” where vocalist Rodney Anonymous confides, “I’m drinking on the corner with strangers, and once you go down that road there’s no turning back.” He adds more social criticism with the nervy “cubicle monkey” ode, “I’ve Got To Get My Numbers Up” and his take on the dumbing-down of America, “Big Words Make Jesus Cry.” Some of the best tracks dispense with the soapbox or clown make-up in favor of dark narratives, as best exemplified by “Somewhere Over Antarctica.” The music has the slinky post-punk/new-wave vibe of Jets to Brazil’s epic debut, Orange Rhyming Dictionary. In it Anonymous hints at a shadowy occurrence (think The Thing or Helix) that drives the narrator to flee their desolate base camp and certain death for near-certain death.

Two of the other strong tracks are historically based. They offer the imagined perspective of one the 21 fatalities of “The Great Molasses Flood” which in 1919 swept through the North End of Boston at 35 mph after a 2.3 million gallon tank burst, singing, “Sweet, sticky death is heading my way!” Another, “Anthropology Days” channels the punchiness of the Minutemen as Anonymous runs through historical epic fails, “to fire you up so the next time you meet an idiot, you’ll remember to tell them to STFU!” Other notable tracks are the humorous, Iggy Pop-biting “I Just Wanna Hold Your Dog” and “Sanitary Times,” which examines the strangeness of our burial rituals through a coffin advert. “It will last until the end of time,” he sings, in a pretty, haunting indie rocker that nicely utilizes a kazoo. “Expire within the next three years and receive a 20 percent rebate.”

Pretty Music is the Dead Milkmen’s 10th studio album, and they haven’t fooled with what works. It’s still sardonic, punky-spirited rock with some eclecticism. Like the members, the humor’s matured (somewhat) and they’ve gotten tighter in the six years since they reunited. The result’s a good album whose wit, intelligence and irreverence fill the void left by Ween’s breakup, helping to leaven the self-seriousness of so much modern music.

Quid Ergo

“Somewhere Over Antarctica”