Friday, May 21, 2010

Late to the Party: Parry Gripp's "For Those About to Shop, We Salute You" (2005)

Far too many fans of underground music are obsessed with the notion of "selling out"; or, the artist they love, with the small but loyal following, signing with a major label or making calculated moves to increase the popularity of their music. In a capitalist society, few, if any, artists are able to make music simply for "the love of music." Instruments are expensive, traveling is expensive, producing T-shirts, CDs, and vinyl records is expensive, life on the road is expensive (and rarely pays that well for all but the most successful acts). Inevitably, concessions will be made. Sure, some groups are better at maintaining a facade of artistic credibility. But believe me you, Fugazi and Crass were just as concerned with the bottom line as The Rolling Stone are. In other words, the notion of "selling out" is a given for 99.99% of all musicians. The Who pursued this logic, however briefly, on their critically acclaimed 1967 LP The Who Sell Out, creating snippets of mock-jingles, linking their songs with excerpts from Radio London to illustrate how they were merely a commodity themselves. That being said, the LP's tracks (like "Armenia City in the Sky" and "I Can See for Miles"), for the most part, are autonomous creations independent of its rather tenuous "concept."

And this is why Parry Gripp's debut CD, For Those About to Shop, We Salute You (2005), is so refreshing and fun. Gripp, the former front-man of the mildly successful pop-punk act Nerf Herder, according to his liner notes for the CD, was asked to produce a few jingles for a waffle-related product after the dissolution of his former group. Though his submissions were rejected, he decided to pursue this path on For Those About to Shop, which has 51 songs and clocks in at a mere 36 minutes in length. It features tracks with titles such as "Great Nachos, Great Price," "This is One Hell of a Truck," "Do You Like Waffles?" "You Need a Beer," "This Sale is Going to Blow Your Mind," "More Blades = Better Shave," and "You Aint Never Drank No Soda Like This One Here." Unlike The Who Sells Out, For Those About to Shop is fully committed to the premise. I mean, nothing sings "sell out" more than actually writing songs to sell products, right?

Gripp's album is a both a celebration and a critique of advertising and conspicuous consumption. It acknowledges advertising's ability to make people feel inadequate so they will be persuaded to buy products that they most likely do not need. It acknowledges how empty this entire process is. However, it is also aware of the rhetorical brilliance of advertising as well as its breadth of artistic influences. On the CD, which draws its title from AC/DC's 1981 LP For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), Gripp's faux-jingles appropriate the styles of a diverse population of musicians, including Al Jolson ("Say Hello To Your Brand New Favorite Pizza" and "You Ain't Never Drank No Soda Like This One Here"), Judas Priest ("Muffler Shop"), Rage Against the Machine ("Health Food Store"), Jerry Reed ("Big Mamma-Jamma"), Johnny Cash ("That Aint Fresh," which advertises a feminine hygiene product!), The Strokes ("Everyone's Dipping"), The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" ("You Need a Beer"), Weezer ("It's the Greatest Deal" and "Hooray for Santa Claus"), doo-wop group The Marcels' version of "Blue Moon" ("Big Sale"), 1990s electronica ("Got to Dip It!"), Yo La Tengo ("This Sale is Gonna Blow Your Mind"), and R.E.M. ("You Need Our Cough Medicine"). Helping make the CD even more entertaining is how convincing Gripp is at tackling this diverse array of musical genres.

Clearly a CD like this isn't made for excessive repeated listens. Hearing fifty different forty-five second long songs for a little more than half and hour can test some listeners' patience. Furthermore, Parry Gripp's voice, in many of these tracks, sounds very similar to "Weird Al" Yankovic, which, for some listeners, may incline them to believe there is no critique here, only blank parody. Clearly, because advertising is such an empty form, only concerned with surface, its emotional content solely existing as an unwieldy and overwhelming delivery of pathos, these songs undoubtedly come across the same way. Woody Allen once said, "Sex without love is a meaningless experience. But as far as meaningless experiences go, it's pretty damn good." To a certain extent, this is a well-suited analogy for For Those About to Shop, We Salute You. It is a fun and infectious musical challenge as empty as the generic products it advertises.

Here is the video for "Great Nachos, Great Price":

Great Nachos, Great Price music video

Dandan | MySpace Video

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