TISM are a bit of an enigma. An alternative rock band from the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia TISM (an acronym for This Is Serious Mum) are a group of mask clad men best known for their pseudonyms, politically incorrect humour and ridiculous song titles who have been around since the early 80's (they are currently on indefinite hiatus since 2004). Their identities were never publicised until an appearance on the 2002 television show John Safran's Music Jamboree (their names were listed during the credits), killing many rumours that had been circulating for years about their true identities with such fanciful theories ranging from that they were school teachers (their tour dates seemed to coincide with school holidays), AFL players (plenty of Australian football references populated their lyrics), and even members of The Wiggles. Controversy rose to an all time high with the release of the 1995 song (He'll Never Be an) Ol' Man River
, which contained references to the death of River Pheonix (I'm on the drug, i'm on the drug, i'm on the drug that killed River Pheonix!
) going so far as to earn the ire of Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers who claimed he wanted to kill TISM. Great Truckin' Songs of The Renaissance
is their debut album, released in 1988.
Describing this band musically is probably best done by using a quote from the groups very own book The TISM Guide To Little Aesthetics
when asked why their ideas are post-modern but their music is not -
"Give me a pop-song, mate. Give me a ***ing pop-song. Not only is it more fun, it's pretty ***in' hard to write as well. You can bung in as many out-of-tune oboes as you want, but putting chords together so they sound pleasant isn't as simple as it might appear. It mightn't be the Sistine Chapel, but what is? Ollie ***ing Olsen with his stupid feedback and cough mixture? The Jesus and Mary Chain, with their stupid feedback, and their stupid stage show with 800 powerful stupid lights and enough stupid dry ice to enhance their stupid stupidity up its own bull*** crappy teenage pretentious one dimensional dick witted puissant artistic enigma?
So ... what have you listened to for a good time that isn't, after all, a 'traditional' song? Still playing the Mike Oldfield records, huh? Still whipping Yessongs on for a good time? Wanna count on one hand how many people have fun at a Sonic Youth gig? I'm not supporting The Choirboys, old man, I'm just saying that the day some jumped up over-paid self-important post-modernist cocksucker puts his foot upon his Fairlight computer in the middle of his 47 minute opus The Silent Forgiveness Of The Pig-God and belts out the chords to Johnny B. Goode is the day I'll join you at the footlights of post-modernism.
Besides which, pop songs sell more."
Whilst later in their career TISM would prominently dabble with electronic influences Great Truckin' Songs of The Renaissance
is Aussie rock, through and through. Bare meat to the bones bass, guitar, drums, keyboard. This is not the problem with Great Truckin' Songs of The Renaissance
as such, as many of these songs manage to be exceptionally catchy. Opener I'm Interested In Apathy
is brilliant, lead singer Ron Hitler-Barassi's lyrics about being a man who has the solution to all worldly problems but is content with apathy are hilarious (I've got the cure for all known disease/I know how to make money grow on trees/Enough of this wretched pedantry/I'm interested in apathy
) as is Saturday Night Palsy
, an ode to Radial neuropathy which is a condition akin to falling asleep on your arm. The Mystery of The Artist Explained
is my favourite track lyrically (I've been working 76 hours a week/I hate every moment/But I do it because somehow I like the pain!
), seeming to fit in with a later theory which would later be expounded by TISM how the entire Australian male population can be fit into two distinct classes: yobs or wankers. This theory is spelled out in detail in the song Whatareya?
, but rest assured artists are complete wankers. Totally. The next track is called If You're Creative, Get Stuffed
. 'Nuff said.
The problem with Great Truckin' Songs of The Renaissance
is that it is far too long. With a 27 track long album, any band would be hard set to keep listeners entertained for it's entire duration but TISM don't do much that is musically interesting for the most part. After the first 5 tracks or so which are thoroughly entertaining the album fades into a sort of recognisable pattern. That is the group will compose a dull rock structure, and add irreverent lyrics full of literary and pop culture references. Looking at the song titles you could get a sense of this (and to be fair, some of these songs are better then others), but if you think that is all there is to it you might be surprised to learn the second half of the album is chock-a-block full of horrendous spoken word pieces that poke fun at now obscure Australian celebrities (There's violence on the television/and letter bombs in the mail/but things can't be all that bad/'cause Derryn Hinch went to jail
). This is nothing but filler. A few tracks towards the end (such as Slave To The Economist
) reach a little for the avant-garde sounds TISM claimed later to be bull*** but this experimentation is not enough to save it.
Musically, TISM have always been gimmicky and terrible, but because they are fully aware of this and have never taken themselves seriously this has always been an ironic appeal for fans (I would suggest the excellent De Rigeurmortis as an equally lengthy TISM release which actually works). They has achieved an irreverent brilliance on many tracks they have done over the years, and the first few songs on Great Truckin' Songs of The Renaissance
are no exception. It almost makes me want to forgive it for soon descending into mediocrity with only a few enjoyable moments in it's overwrought length. But who am I to judge TISM, yob or wanker? Wanker, no doubt.