What The Sons do is put a spin on American standards. This has been done since Yankee Doodle called it macaroni, but this band has a red state sound with a blue state message. They introduce you to an important historical character that you may not be familiar with.
In the mid-1800s San Francisco knew Joshua Abraham Norton as "His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I". He proclaimed himself "Emperor of the United States" and "protector of Mexico". Though he never held any actual power, locals respected him and businesses he frequented accepted currency in his name. History questions his sanity and some labeled him as an eccentric, but Mark Twain wrote an epitaph for his dead dog. He proclaimed decrees to dissolve the U.S. Congress by force and to build a bridge spanning San Francisco Bay. Who’s crazy now? Today you can find a sundae, a snack chip and a beer named in his honor in the great state of Shwarzafornia.
Given the current shape we’re in as a nation, it certainly seems like an appropriate time in history to resurrect the Emperor’s spirit and set it to music. The title track, Putrid Minds (I think we stopped the clock back at Wounded Knee) is an anthem of The Son’s views peppered with statements by the "putrid minds": "Locked inside these putrid minds .. It’s just to spend another day letting corporate powers have their way/ Our president is a puppet and a liar but I’m patriotic so I’ll just fall in line/Let’s kill Iraqis and build another pipeline."
The putrid mind (the slightly effeminate voice of a horribly negative American amalgam) follows with vapid lines, "As I sip a latte and I do another line" and "Let’s watch some football and we’ll drink a case of beer," and "I love my Prozac and my California wine."
If you really want to get into it, there is an "extended jam" version of this song on the album.
There are a couple of notable tracks on The Putrid Minds Anthology that are memorable. Track 2, Compared to What? is sung with the scratchy, rambling vocals of a man in a world devoid of validity. It’s hard to tell from the album who’s singing what since a few different bands, The Hi-Fi’s, the Quadrophonics, and the Beat Meters all contribute to the album.
He Hums a Sad, Sweet Song, is a touching homage to the Emperor himself and a recording of Amazing Grace, near the end of the album, is sung by a band of weary southerners with nothin’ left to do but sing their hurt out.
Track 3, Killing for the Oil Companies, gives a rockabilly spin to the pledge of allegiance, "One nation uninformed, in denial, with liberty and justice forsaken, forbidden and forgotten." The sons are blaming their statesmen, the injustices attained in the guise of Christianity and the apathy of members of the republic.
"The Irrational Anthem" follows, beginning with a calypso beat, when you hear, "O’ say can you see innocent people as they flee/ from our huge air force jets that we fly across the sea/ O’ say does that star-spangled banner still wave o’er the land of corporate greed and the home of its slaves."
There’s so much material out there that’s it is hard not to invent alternate lyrics to our nation’s oldest and dearest musical Americana on a daily basis. So this gets tiresome after the first four tracks, which do just that. As this is an anthology, there’s more to be had in the ways of creativity and then some songs that don’t really fit at all.
Two extremely funny tracks are Ol’ E’s Comin’ Back and Den Xiao Ping. The latter is a four minute song consisting solely of the former Chinese head of state’s name sang in a Chinese accent (you’d feel cheated if it wasn’t). Sure, it sounds obnoxious, but it’s really a very funny name. Ol’ E is Elvis Presley, the one and only King. One can’t be sure the connection between the Emperor and the King, except for the obvious regal relations. It doesn’t matter, because Elvis is apparently going to come back and save us all from our troubles. He’s going to befriend Ralph Nader and while on his mission he will fuel his caddy with bio-diesel.
Elvis reappears in track 15, The Emperor and the King, as an undercover CIA agent. This is the last track in the middle of the album and it serves as the final part to a radio play which begins with The National Anthem (public domain). Samuel Clemens, the good Emperor and Stephen Hawking are having a conversation about liberty, patriotism and democracy. Hawking has arrived from the future. Unfortunately, The Family Guy has ruined all Stephen Hawking satire from here on out.
In the funniest moment, Hawking goes over their heads. Twain tells him to take his language down a notch to a, "vernacular we can all understand." Hawking gives his robo-voice delivery, "Sammy, just chill, kick back, and dig the rhymes off this next track."
The group reappears in track 15, in a diner. It’s there that they meet Elvis who tells them they’ll be put on trial for listening to this album. Meanwhile, Hawking sexually harasses the waitress.
The final track, hysterically titled, The John Wilkes Booth Fully Privatized Chief Executive Retirement Plan, (Why bother with another over-regulated, inefficient, government-run system?) is a distorted snippet from, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" followed by (12 seconds into the song) a gunshot.
Only so much can be done when retooling beloved American hymnals. The Sons of Emperor Norton mix it up enough to transmit a political message and keep you laughing every once in awhile. Blue states are definitely lacking in the battle hymn area. The reason you should listen to this album is not because of witty twists on American standards, but rather, the Emperor himself. It is particularly this character in American history that does not get a lot of airtime. He should be remembered for his independent spirit and the way he challenged what he deemed wrong, not just as the name of a beer, or a snack chip.
Order the CD here: http://cdbaby.com/cd/tsoen
Visit The Sons’ website: http://www.thesonsofemperornorton.com/
Melody Zagami is a 25 year old freelance writer and sometime-stand-up comedian in the green mountains of Vermont. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in special ed.