Robby Roadsteamer – Okay Computer
Yellow Trout Records, 2004
1. We Drink in the Pit Tonite
2. Naked Except For Socks
3. I’m Sorry Your Cat Has Ass Cancer
4. Salem Elks Lodge Serenade
5. Crucial Dude
6. Finger Blastin’
7. You’re the Only Girl I Wanna Plow
8. Give Me One Pump in the Tour Van
9. “Rock Steady Beat”
10. I Got Six Days To Cheat
11. She’s Pretty Killer… Except For Her Eyebrow Dandruff
12. Magnum PI
The Darkness have received either praise or criticism, depending on how heavy-handed the music critic happens to be for any particular review. Some see it as fun, while others find it insulting to a lost genre of hair farmers, shriekers, and soloists. While one might ask why anyone would overreact so strongly to mockery of a genre which clearly lended itself to the easiest of mocking itself, the real question is, where did the music world’s sense of humor and fun go? Did Napster suck it all away? Was it all polluted by the mass emissions of SUVs taking over? It remains a mystery.
However, in the northeastern United States, a little band known as the Sweatpants Boners rocked for years, producing deliciously childish tunes about body fluids and fecal matter. Led by vocalist Robby Roadsteamer, the Boners’ reputation spread far beyond their Massachussetts home to gain fans far-reaching with a little help from the Internet and a lot of word-of-mouth. Always tongue-in-cheek and always ready to rock, nothing better accompanied a night of tap beer specials.
Breaking out on his own, Roadsteamer carries a nagging comparison to a handlebar-moustachioed Bruce Springsteen, vocalizing gravelly enough through a wide range of tunes unlimited in juvenile scope. The charming “Naked Except For Socks,” while not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, induces a giggle and shaking of the head. The songs are simply so ridiculous at times that one can’t help but be amused; it takes the type of sense of humor that appreciates Andy Kaufman’s alter-ego Tony Clifton. In fact, Roadsteamer is not just a musician, he also runs a bizarre stand-up of sorts. Doodling along with his keyboard player, the Berklee-schooled Nick D’Amico, Roadsteamer rampages through a cavalcade of bizarre insults (“A thousand men cannot fight me with nunchucks and crazy glue”) and other nonsense. It’s almost a highbrow take on extremely lowbrow humor in a manner that can be just as confusing as it is hilarious.
As for the songs themselves, Okay Computer kicks off with “We Drink in the Pit Tonite,” a rousing anthem of rock debauchery and drunkenness, abound with rock cliches. In fact, many songs throughout the album celebrate “the life” and the accompanying music fits in grandest of near-mockery form; “Crucial Dude” takes the absurdism even further, while “You’re The Only Girl I Wanna Plow” manages not only that but rags on the groupie scene as well. Unlike bands like The Darkness where one could actually confuse their antics with being a tribute to a genre, it’s clear Robby Roadsteamer is out not just to poke fun at the rock scene but doesn’t mind the occasional all-out insult, either.
Unexpectedly, there are quite a few ballads sprinkled throughout the disc, although this shouldn’t be dismissed as a softer side of Roadsteamer. While “I’m Sorry Your Cat Has Ass Cancer” might actually be a lot more heart-tugging than one would initially imagine, it’s obvious the idea throughout is akin to Anthrax’s “NFB,” clear mockery of the eternally cheesy power ballad. “Finger Blastin'” plays tribute to that wonderful, ummm, exploratory time in a young couple’s lives when parents aren’t home and the Nintendo takes a backseat. Oddly enough, the neverending Chevy Corsica and Zima references lend such a realistic charm that in a parallel universe, Roadsteamer’s songs are less humor and more akin to actual memories.
The coup de grace of the entire disc, however, is “Magnum PI,” a most excellent take on “American Pie” mourning the loss of all the questionably great television of the 1980s. As one horrible pop icon reference floats by to the next, from “Silver Spoons” and “Growing Pains” to “Mr. Belvedere” and “Perfect Strangers,” there’s nearly a reason to stand up and cheer. “And the two people I admired most/Arnold and Willis from Diff’rent Strokes” may alone be one of the greatest couplets in the history of music parody; while the majority of the lyrics probably could have used a bit more honing, it’s still silly enough to make ’80s pop culture freaks dance and sing along.
Being an indie act — and a comic one at that — does hinder throughout the disc. The production is miles above what one would expect for such an album and the musicianship is fantastic, but some of the jokes to wear repetitively and get old quickly. It may be assumed immediately that Robby Roadsteamer would definitely be an experience to see live with Okay Computer being more of a take-home souvenir to remember his better moments. Hearing the album straight-up without any background would easily lend the casual listener to sneer. It’s a rough balance to maintain when the best of Roadsteamer is in the gimmick, and trying to convey that pure gimmick without the visual is challenging at best.