RocknRoll Machine - Turbonegro (SLR/Burger Records)
Consensus is that Turbonegro peaked with 1998’s “Apocalypse Dudes” and have been delivering ever-diminishing returns since then. There might be some truth to that but since “RocknRoll Machine is the band’s fifth studio album since then, that’s a lot of backsliding over 20 years.
Let’s cut the Denim Demons some slack here. “Dudes” was a masterpiece, a clever and visceral cop of many of rock’s great moments, unashamedly woven into a punk-glam merkin and proudly worn in public. You liked “Ass Cobra” better? Buy yourself a sailor hat.
“Self-parody” is a term many reverred acts have had thrown at them - often by critics who can’t abide a band playing to its own strengths, or not knowing that a purple patch of three or four consecutive great albums is a rarity for a long-running outfit. Just ask the Ramones- if you can find one still living) - or the Cramps (although they did morph into something approaching a conventional rock band.)
TBNGR has suffered at the hands of critics for repeating the same joke, over and over. When they dispensed with comedy, they sounded grim.
“RocknRoll Machine” is a 1980s concept album. The plot goes along these lines: TBNGR have returned from parts unknown, re-born as machines that are rooted in the near past. Like dial-up modems (the sound of which you can hear if you listen closely.)
You might recognise the opening act. There’s the by-now familiar instrumental intro “Suite”, a scene-setting narration from current vocalist Tony Sylvester and we’re into the punk metallic punk KO of “Well Hello”, a song that sticks out like a retread tyre stolen from a parked car in a bad part of town. Its larceny pales compared to the blatant AccaDacca cop of“High Voltage” on the title track and “Hurry Up And Die”, on the other hand, is just a re-write of “Rock Against Ass”.
“RocknRoll Machine” is at once both cheesy and ham-fisted. At first listen, it seemed like “Jump” Van Halen impregnated with punk rock (cock an ear to the the synth on the Young Brothers riff-o-rama of “Fist City”.) “John Carpenter Powder Ballad” is an unabashed piss-take that could still take Foreigner to AOR revival land if they want to record it. Aerosmith called and they want “Skinhead RocknRoll” back. Pete Townsend wants a co-write credit for “Hot For Nietzsche”.
It takes half an album before Turbonegro comes into their own with “On The Rag” which is both witty and biting, a punk rock throwback that reclaims some of the band's humour. With a touch of the Dead Kennedys town in for good measure. “Let The Punishment Fit The Behind” is one of the best songs on the record and is less about toilet humour and gay-baiting than the rigours of longtime immersion in underground rock and roll. And there’s a big streak of De Dee Ramone running through “Special Education”.
“RocknRoll Machine” is far from the worst album you’ll hear this year and if it’s caught in a rut of Turbonegro’s own making, that might nor be a bad thing for the fans. The rest of you won't know any better.