Poptart Monkeys – CD “Secret Decoder Outfit”
Review by Amaris Michael
of HomeGrownBands Team
I have on my wall at home a painting I did of a fire pixie. I’m not extremely happy with it and fully mean to redo at least the face someday. The first time this painting was seen by an “outsider,” I was a bit embarrassed, especially as this person is an artist himself. After apologizing profusely, he looked at me and reminded me that the true purpose of art is to move you, to create feelings in the observer. For him, my painting does that.
I could listen to “Secret Decoder Outfit” and give you a standard review. I could highlight the tone, vocal quality, etc, etc. I could spout out words like “great riffs,” “good beat,” or any of the myriad other phrases one often encounters in a review. Would it give you any idea of the music, though?
Music is an art form. Unfortunately, like true art, it has become commercialized and popular culture judges good and bad in terms of popularity and trends. We forget that the purpose of music, like all art, is to move you.
My personal music tastes are somewhat eclectic. I judge music based on what it makes me feel or think – the images it brings to mind. I’ve been told that I read too much into music; that it’s just songs and it shouldn’t affect me so profoundly. I wonder, though, would the artist agree with that assessment? Probably not. Unfortunately, “we” as a culture, do judge things in this light and forget about the soul of the musician/artist who put this work together for us.
In light of all that, I’ve decided to take a slightly different tact with my review of “Secret Decoder Outfit” by Poptart Monkeys. I’ve decided the best review I can give you is to open up my mind and try to paint for you with my words the pictures and feelings that go through my head as I listen. Given those parameters, this will, of course, be a bit free flowing, but isn’t that really what true art is all about?
So, let’s get to it. Note, I am writing this as I am listening and will only pause or rewind the CD if my speed typing doesn’t quite cut it. Further note: what you are about to read are MY feelings and MY images from listening to this CD. These words are in no way meant to express the opinions or feelings of the members of Poptart Monkeys or the creators of this CD and what they “meant” by it. That would be really hard to do, seeing as I’ve never met any of them, or even heard of them prior to my brother passing the CD on to me to listen to. I certainly hope and do believe that that’s ok, though, because, after all, one’s interpretation of art is highly personal.
Track 1: Hooked
I cannot help but move to this song. It starts out with a definite moving beat. Once the lyrics start, I find myself back in high school. Now, high school for me was not the best experience in the world and normally a reminder of that time would be a bad thing. But this song does not remind me of my high school days, but rather the days we all probably in some secret spot wish we’d had. The ideal world movies such as “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” threw at those of us who attended high school in the 80’s. It’s a good thing. I find myself wanting to touch those times again and enjoy it. I won’t question if that was the point of this song. I have no clue for what generation “Hooked” was written, but for me, it feels like it was written for those of us who want to look back and live vicariously through those wonderful images. I am years from high school, obviously if I attended in the 80’s, and the music of today’s Billboard hits does not exactly appeal to me. This song, though, feels like the music of my high school days and brings to mind the ideal. It works in a weird way. To listen to a song of prom and all that, how could I, at this stage of my life, really identify with it? Hell if I know, but it works.
Track 2: What Can I Do
My first thought is that I’m impressed. This is one of those songs that has those “quick” lyrics that are rather difficult to pull off without slurring the words, but Poptart Monkey’s singer does it well. Again, I’m taken back to days when I was freer and I’m dancing in my chair and thoughts of kids and every other responsibility that makes up my daily life is completely forgotten. I’m beginning to sense a “theme” here. Is this CD about just that? For those of us who are “burdened” by living in the mundane, real world, consigned to paying mortgages and babysitters and auto loans. Those of us who may find truth in classic rock but can’t really “get into” modern rock. So far, this CD feels free of those obligations and free of the deep associative meanings I find in other music. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Sometimes I despise feeling too much from music. Or rather, having feelings evoked strongly of love and loss and all that goes along with it. It’s nice and refreshing to hear something that moves me without all that angst. Honestly, I find myself feeling free with this CD. Sure, I can find tons of songs that make me cry. And tons of songs that make we want to dance. But sometimes it’s just about feeling good and feeling free. It’s about identifying with something that you have absolutely no personal experience to identify with.
Track 3: Sunshine
The title and the opening licks bring to mind beaches. I feel the pulse of the earth greeting the new day. The strength of the music does sort of drown the lyrics and it becomes more about the pulse. The music is unusual and not consistent, but it works, here, too. Suddenly we’re encountered with some rapping. One would think it would not fit, that it would be discordant as the music is far from normal “rap” music. It’s weird, though, that it fits. This song overall is just amazing. It’s full of unusual juxtapositions that the logical mind would insist cannot work. It does, though. It almost throws you off, but pulls you right back with its unique nature.
Track 4: Dreams
Ah, the obligatory “slow” song. And yet, it’s not too slow or sappy. I think after the first 3 tracks, had it been, I would have been highly disappointed. Ok, I broke my rule & have now re-winded this song to really listen and I’m stunned at how apropos it is to my life at this moment. This one is my favorite by far and if you listen to this CD, pay attention to the words on “Dreams.” It’s real. It’s not some “made-up” love story. It speaks to the real love and loss that makes up our daily existence. It’s not Hollywood. At least for me it isn’t. I can perfectly identify with each and every line and it feels like words I would say and in fact have recently recited similar. This is, in itself, quite an achievement, as I’m largely a drama queen (and obviously not embarrassed to admit it) and tend to romanticize just about everything. I relate to many “love” songs, as they tend to describe the depth of my feelings. The shortfall is that 9 times out of 10 the feelings are just mine and the majority of the drama has taken place upon my own personal stage and looking at the facts just doesn’t warrant or merit said “love” songs. This one really does fit. It’s the feelings beneath the drama. The truth at the core. Interesting how the title is “Dreams” while the words speak of reality or rather speak to reality. They point to what real dreams are. I mean the dreams that CAN exist in reality. “Remember you, remember me. You’ll always be a part of me. Dreams can’t be taken away. They’re always there.” I cannot help but call to mind a song from the Broadway musical “Man of La Mancha” where the priest extols the gift of dreams and what a better world this would be if every man had his dream to guide him. At the end of the song, though, he makes the astute observation that dreams are only “flame and air.” That is the true unspoken sadness of this song. No, dreams can’t be taken away and they inspire us and guide us. But in the end, are they just dreams? Do we feel privileged to have been touched in this way during our lifetime or do we mourn the loss? And yet, like life and true emotions, we find ourselves feeling both. The singer both seems to mourn the loss and yet feel blessed by his “Dreams.” There is nothing delusional about the dreams he talks of, though. No, he sums it all up with “Why do things always seem so unclear?” I can relate to both the grande illusion and the privilege while at the same time the deep pain of knowing the dream is all that’s left. When something that great is taken from us, we want to forget it all for remembering brings pain. And we’re not blind but still we can’t see that “dreams, they can’t be taken away.” The dream will live on within us, for good or bad, so we need to see the good and be inspired.
This is, unfortunately, a song that could be easily ignored because it doesn’t carry the quality of many “love” songs of being too slow or sappy. Don’t ignore this one! Listen to it – again and again and again.
Track 5: 7:30
Whoa! Hyper and energetic. Quite a shock following “Dreams”. Intentional? “Dreams” can throw you off into dreams but this one brings you back to reality with a slam-fest. This song throws in our face the reality of chasing the meaningless goals in the mundane world. The fast-paced corporate world – the things we MUST do and the rules we MUST follow. It’s all hollow, though, isn’t it? We do it because society demands we march to the same beat. The American Dream, eh? Work your ass off to rise the corporate ladder and buy the nice home with the picket fence and support your kid’s way through college and everything that we praise in this world… “And I’m in bed by 7:30.” So what have we really accomplished when all’s said and done?
Track 6: Adore Me
I’m pretty sure that the feelings in my head are not quite what was intended with this one, but the beat is very primal. It’s raw and brings to mind a post-apocalyptic world as seen in such movies as “Time Machine,” “Mad Max,” “The Post-Man,” and “Matrix Reloaded.” But then, I’m the same person who gets a whole fantasy/sci-fi picture in my head from Dokken’s “Alone Again.” I think this song is really about putting someone on a pedestal and then tearing it down. It feels like it’s about power, though. “Once I stood a statue, now I stand accused … You looked up to me. You adored me…Now we lie in a waste land.” So maybe the whole post-apocalyptic world thing does work. Imagine how Neo would feel if all those who “worship” and look up to him because he is “The One,” suddenly and irrevocably turned their backs on him. Hell, imagine what it even feels like to be “The One,” to hold the hopes and dreams of all these people in your hands for nothing much more than the fact that you were born who you are in the time that you were. Machiavelli said, “Since fear and love can hardly exist together, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Words we can easily believe the character in this song may wish he’d taken to heart. One of the most poignant scenes I ever saw in a movie was the Superman where he gave up his powers to be with Lois. He got his ass kicked. And as he lay there, he touched his bleeding lip and realized that this was his blood. Something he’d never seen before. How many people hated him when he couldn’t save them later? We raise so many people onto pedestals – in our personal lives and with “idols.” This song berates us, “Me. This is not about you.” It’s hell being an idol and we give them very little sympathy, don’t we? No, we tear down the pedestals as quickly as we built them.
Track 7: Stung
A tribute or a bashing of Sting? This song gathers several of Sting’s hits and throws lines together which almost sounds derogatory. There is a “rap” mix in, too, that I cannot quite grasp. As I cannot be sure, I can only say, listen to it yourself and make your own determination.
Track 8: Enemy
Opens with news clips from Kennedy and King’s assassinations. Mixed in the middle are clips of Bush from 911. The song is talking about “I’m not the enemy.” Well, given those clips, who is saying they’re not the enemy? This song could really piss a lot of people off if taken the wrong way. Listen closely, though and what I hear is someone who does have an open mind looking at it all with open eyes and because they are not “jumping on the band wagon,” they are being judged as the enemy. How many times do we hear others shouting, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us”? It’s so very easy to compartmentalize everyone and everything into categories of good and bad. But the truth is such generalizations are naïve and innocent. We bash those who challenge that innocence and show the real truth. Truth seekers are not the enemy. What kind of nation are we and what direction do we want to move in?
Track 9: Who Are You
The verses of this song go on and on about a man loving this woman and doing this and that for her and trying to be her perfect man. Then the chorus comes and he says, “I don’t even know who you are.” I don’t know if it’s meant to be a cynical statement on love, but I have to laugh at how true this idea is. We see what we want to see. We love what we want to love. But who really is this person we love? Conversely, this song could be talking about how we plan to love our ideal mate, but we don’t know who they are, simply because we haven’t found them yet. Ok, that interpretation sits better with me, only because it’s “nicer.” We are, after all, experts at self-delusion.
Track 10: Life
“You hate your 9 to 5, but pissing and moaning will get you nowhere.” How true. I can only sit here and laugh at these guys. I mean, the bitter, cynical laughter. They have quite a way of seeing the “truth” behind the illusions we live day in and day out. We ask again and again, “How is your life?” The implication coming from this song is that for one, we really don’t care when we ask, and two, the person answering really doesn’t know because what really is “life”? Life is not the job and how much money you make and the home you live in and the car you drive. It’s not even really about the kid’s soccer games or grades. It takes Life to love life. “Life” is what’s inside. It’s the joie de vie in French. It’s the simplest things and the most complex. Well, I’m not going to try and sit here and tell anyone what life is, but I will challenge you to figure it out for yourself. And it is different for everyone…
That being said, not everyone is going to “get” Poptart Monkey’s. I challenge you to give it a chance. I, obviously, enjoyed it. Didn’t really expect to. If my brother hadn’t “coerced” me into writing this review, I probably would not have given this CD the chance I did. I’m glad I did. This one will stay in the car to be popped in whenever I need a little vacation or reality check. And I mean truth when I say reality. They’re not necessarily the same thing and if they are for you, you might not like this CD. If you see truth and reality are not quite the same, check out “Secret Decoder Outfit” by Poptart Monkey’s.
By: Amaris Michael