Review Summary: A good single, then a steady diet of ridiculously awful
Sometimes, it's impossible to not feel sorry for the one hit wonder. Imagine the taste of fame, the brief celebrity and stardom, before being lost to oblivion, destined to appear on VH1 Classic specials hosted by William Shatner, forever known as "the artist that did that song."
In the case of Primitive Radio Gods, I can hold back the tears.
Primitive Radio Gods achieved some mainstream success in the mid 1990's with the ethereal "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand," which, sporting a groovy hip hop beat, gorgeous piano, and genius sampling of B.B. King's "How Blue Can You Get?", hit number 1 on the modern rock charts in 1996. Running with a relaxed pulse, "Broken Phone Booth" exudes all the qualities of a perfect '90's song: melancholic piano interludes, a "doo doo" chorus, and dreamy production, all incorporated into a hypnotizing six minute wash of a number that stands up with any and all alternative rock hits of the decade. Frontman Chris O' Connor's easy going vocals and introspective lyrics are as engaging as they are aurally pleasing, with lyrics such as "And if I die before I learn to speak, can money pay for all the days I lived awake, but half asleep?"
The contrast between O'Connor's gentle layered voice and the fiery passion of the "I've been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met"
King sampling work magnificently together, invoking an emotional response so uncommon on mainstream radio, it’s easy to see why the song (and the band, briefly) blew up. From "Broken Phone Booth", one would expect Primitive Radio Gods' debut album Rocket
to be an alternative landmark rivaling R.E.M.'s Automatic For the People
or U2's The Joshua Tree
. One would be wrong.
Instead of incorporating all the style and genius albums before it incorporated, Rocket
runs like an amalgamation of the mediocrity compiled in from the decade preceding Rocket
's release. Primitive Radio Gods never attempt to replicate "Broken Phone Booth" in terms atmosphere or quality, and the rest of Rocket
runs like a cluster*** of everything between cheesy 80's hair metal and long-since forgotten 90's alternative rock. Songs such as the mind-numbingly corny title track sport a mid-tempo boom-kaht-tiss that sounds more in place with the era of big hair rather than the one of ripped jeans. The banally annoying chorus that features a dreadfully flat O’Connor does it no favors either. Whereas “Rocket” tips its hat to the forgotten, overproduced metal acts of the 80’s, songs like “Who Say” and “Where the Monkey Meets the Man” try their hand at funky foot-stomping attitude rock, with similar results. The former of these two features an obnoxiously irritating hook that never ceases throughout the song’s three and a half minute, and since poor track arrangement places “Who Say” directly after “Broken Phone Booth,” “Who Say” resoundingly announces that Rocket
will get extremely annoying. Fast.
Worse than their inability to find a niche in terms of genre is the curiously pretentious attitude Primitive Radio Gods give off. This is mostly due in part to O’Connor’s lyrical skill, which fails at portraying every emotion from cockiness (“I'm gonna spell it so there ain't no doubt/ 'Cause I'm the one with the other/ I'm a bad mother***er/ And my bullet's gonna find you out”
) to anger (“I'm getting no reaction, that ain't no joke/ I've had bad religions shoved down my throat”
). O’Connor’s lyrics are laughably awful: Preachy, amateurish, and unjustifiably pissed off at matters like religion, urban life, and stardom, three topics which he appears to have only a skin-deep understanding of judging from the stupidity of his words. His hilariously skewed rant on racism in “Skin Turns Blue” provides the most illegitimately entertaining part on all of Rocket
, particularly the sincerity of his line: ”When will you realize/ The ****** you hate is your brother??”
Furthering Primitive Radio Gods’ pretension is their obnoxious use of samples, which, though successful on “Broken Phone Booth”, grow obtrusive with continued incorporation, at times sucking any hint of listenabilility out of tracks on Rocket
. For example, “Chain Reaction” begins with several cacophonous spoken word samples meant to signify a- you guessed it- chain reaction. As inferable by the song’s concept, “Chain Reaction” proves another annoying faux-funk track that, though it has a neat groove, proves another failure on Rocket
, largely due to O’Connor thinking that shouting ”I’m just a goddamn chain reaction!”
serves as a hook. The preceding track, “Are You Happy?” suffers a similar fate. Beginning with a southern preacher’s rants in an endless loop from hell, “Are You Happy?” delves unsuccessfully into 80’s alternative. For several reasons, “Are You Happy?” exemplifies all that is wrong with Rocket
: terrible lyrics, an abhorrent better-than-it-really-is attitude, and tired anti-religious overtones make “Are You Happy?” and Rocket
a dreadful, irritating, and overall unenjoyable listen. However thankful you may be for “Standing outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money In My Hand,” be more thankful this one hit wonder stayed that way.