Review Summary: "I'm just making sure you keep it C-R-U-N-K in the U-S-A, if you know what I mean."
While listening to Family Force 5’s debut CD, Business Up Front, Party in the Back
, I was reminded of an unintentionally funny episode from my camping days as a Boy Scout. Back when I was 14, my Boy Scout troop attended this “Jamboree” (that’s the corny word Boy Scouts of America likes to use to describe huge campouts) at a retired air force base close to the University of Illinois. It was a carnival of sorts: large inflatable slides were set up on the old runway; a hip and cool DJ played PG-rated hits from the likes of Sheryl Crow, Kylie Minogue, and Sugar Ray; and the Air Force tried giving away free hats to entice us into joining the Air Force.
The second night of the campout, the powers-that-be set up some special entertainment for us: a local Christian rapper who looked exactly like Bobby Brown. His name unfortunately escapes me, but I do remember he had his sidekicks along by the names of Blessing and The Bookkeeper. Needless to say, they sucked pretty bad, but what I found especially funny were the 50 or so white suburban kids – kids who knew less about rap than Louie Anderson knows about dieting – who were totally into the performance and were doing their best to recreate that cool scene they had seen from 8 Mile
. I guess the main point to take away from this is that the unintentional comedy from this scene was quite high.
The same can be said of self-proclaimed “crunk rockers” Family Force 5. You’ve probably already picked up on the fact that they named their album after the only haircut to get its own short-lived TV show on UPN starring John O’Hurley – that’s right, the mullet. Ah, but the humor doesn’t stop there with these guys; they’ve given each other fun stage names! There’s the lead singer Soul Glow Activatur; the DJ Nadaddy; the bassist Phatty; the guitarist Chap Stique (who replaced the band’s original guitarist, 20 Cent); and, last but not least, the drummer Crouton! What’s more, they like incorrect spelling in their song titles (“Cadillac Phunque,” “Kountry Gentleman,” “Put Ur Hands Up,”) and expressive lyrics such as “Chicka-pow!” and “WOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”
Factor in their undying ambition to make rap-infused-rock that will “get ur party on” and it all adds up to what you would think would be a Saturday Night Live
skit starring Andy Samberg and Will Forte. Business Up Front, Party in the Back
over the top that, at times, it would be better off just as an SNL
skit: it is grating and it is annoying and there are parts of it you will probably hate. However, for what it is, it’s impeccably produced and Solomon Olds, FF5’s lead singer and co-producer, has a definite talent for creating catchy and out-of-the-ordinary songs.
The band can also legitimately claim it has its own distinct style, a rather amazing feat given that their music is solely made up of clear derivatives. Really, Business Up Front, Party in the Back
is sort of like the ultimate mash-up album: far-ranging influences from Kid Rock to Beastie Boys to OutKast to Usher to Green Day to Rage Against the Machine are all fused together – sometimes in the same song – and then Olds put his own “I Love the ‘80s” spin on that. There are lots and lots of cheesy-sounding synthesizers that actually mix well with the heavy distorted guitars found most often. Olds himself mostly sounds like Zach de la Rocha – if Zach was trying to inspire people to do The Centipede rather than rebel against the government. His brothers, Jacob (“Crouton”) and Joshua (“Phatty”), also make frequent vocal contributions – Phatty playing the role of Andre 3000 and Crouton as Big Boi. Together, the three Olds brothers are mildly amusing and non-detrimental to the music at their best and terribly annoying at their worst.
As you might guess, Family Force 5 doesn’t have that much to say, other than to make sure that “You keep it C-R-U-N-K in the U-S-A,” as Crouton says on “Supersonic.” Fair enough – every song is catchy and some are even (dare I say it) artistically daring. Okay, maybe not. But at their best, FF5 wander a little off the beaten path. The Butch Walker-produced track “Put Ur Hands Up” relies heavily on a quirky Wurlitzer loop to go along with a synth-bass driven beat; all the while, Crouton and Phatty repeatedly shout out “Ugly people, put your hands down!” (This track is a good litmus test for trying out the band; if you can handle “Put Ur Hands Up” without punching your computer screen, this album might be for you.)
Sometimes the album’s derivatives don’t add up to anything more than derivatives. “Cadillac Phunque” and “Kountry Gentleman” steal too much from Kid Rock and the guitar riff in “Drama Queen” is an almost-exact copy of No Doubt’s “Hella Good.” And did I mention this is over-the-top? I mean, really
over the top? At times such as the chorus of “Supersonic” (“Do you wanna get supa-sonic? You gotsa-to-get supa-sonic. Get, get, get supa-sonic. Supa-dupa-sonic, baby.), it is as annoying as any recorded music of the past ten years.
However, the moments when the band showcases even the slightest bit of seriousness (“Replace Me,” “Lose Urself”) showcases a band that actually has talent and could be more than a class clown if it wanted to be. Business Up Front, Party in the Back
shows little to no willingness to rise above that label, but there are enough enjoyable moments on this disc to save Family Force 5 from becoming a farce.
Put Ur Hands Up