Over drinks at Liquid, I made the mistake of mentioning to BW A&E Editor Amy Atkins that whatever one may think about their music, I respected the Insane Clown Posse's creativity, that they had managed to create an elaborate mythology that rivaled those created by fantasy novelists and that few musicians even attempt. And that such feats are especially impressive because they've managed to build such a rabid following for something so odd, as independent artists. Their live show is also awesome.
Apparently, she took that to mean that I was one of these guys, because the next morning there was a fresh shiny copy of their new album, Bang Pow Boom, sitting on my desk waiting to be reviewed.
You really want to click that link by the way.
Unfortunately however, it lacks some of the refreshing uniqueness of previous attempts, as the track ICP put themselves on has at this point has become well worn. Hatchet killings, Fago and mystic carnival magic aren't themes any other groups touch on, but for ICP they've become a bit stale, and the songs and ideas explored on Bang Pow Boom made little effort to put such old wine into new bottles. In many places Violent J, one half of ICP, actually sounds bored or out of breath, lacking the unpredictable vocal dynamics that set him apart as a performer on earlier releases, as he's simply settled into his role as a cult entertainment oddity, and is just going through the motions. Song referencing hatchets, check. Song about mystical revenge, check. Skits with a lot of profanity, check. Rip Sheakespeare by having everyone die in the end, and that's a wrap.
Songs like In Yo Face, the main single from the album, lack the playfullness, the mirth, that made ICP fascinating. When they say, "Take a step back before the hatchet attacks," I care less than I did when on The Great Milenko, they sang, "forty in hand, I rose from the dead." It could just be a lack of focus, as if it doesn't matter whose face they're in, whereas he rose from the dead specifically to put the hatchet to Detroit bluebloods who slept on mattresses stuffed with money while the proles were starving. But if that's the case, then it's indicative of an album-wide lack of focus, and a scattershot continuation of general themes.
A whole song on Bang Pow Boom is based off the insipid To Catch a Predator, tabloid TV series. Another song, I Found a Body, which is about finding a body (no surprise there) trudges along lacking any of the insight or bizarre commentary that was the foundation of ICP's lyrical style. When they devote an entire song to detailing all the women that want to sleep with them and Shaggy doesn't once refer to himself as Stretchnuts, I can't find a reason to care about references that prioritize crassness over wit. They used to be audacious. But now it just seems trashy, as if ICP has sunk to the lowest common denominator of their fans, rather than challenging Juggalos to rise and meet them on a higher creative plane. In short, they pandered.
On top of that it's become ironically inconsistent as ICP will rail against child abusers and pedophiles in one track, and glorify a pond full of dead children or objectification of young women and sexual deviancy in the next.
However, it might be an example of the joke now having run for so long that they've lost themselves in it. They've always taken themselves seriously at times, making attempts at social commentary about racism and redneck culture. But ICP was at their best when they embraced the absurdity of their endeavor, with songs like What is a Juggalo, or The Dating Game.
There is also a puzzling attempt to be deep or inspirational with the album's second single Miracles, which includes lyrics, "there's magic everywhere in this bitch." This bitch, being "the world around you." While it's not ICP's first attempt to get emotional, why it was chosen as a video worthy single over the far superior Zombie Slide is a mystery.
Where Bang Pow Boom does shine, aside from the brilliant liner photos of ICP cavorting about suburbs, moving lawns and selling ice cream, is in some of the beats beneath. Zombie Slide made my head bob more than it has in months, and the surf guitar on The Bone is a fantastic uptempo groove. Bang Pow Boom, the closing track could stand toe to toe instrumentally with any pop rock single in current radio rotation.
The bonus DVD included with Bang Pow Boom Nuclear Edition, was also a nice plus. It featured a bizarre documentary about The Gathering of the Juggalos, an event best described as The White Trash Burning Man, and follows fans who cross oceans to reach it, and locals who are on the edge of rallying pitchforks and torches to stop it.
Overall, Bang Pow Boom and ICP at this phase in their career, could best be described as trying too hard to live up to an abstract and impossible standard of delusion and depravity that ICP themselves created and yet somehow got away from them. They have to keep raising the bar to stay relevant. But when you start with hatchet murders and evil carnival magic, where do you go from there? Though I never would have thought it possible, ICP's latest release seems to have them mired in the uncanny valley, in which their satire has created a cultural reality so vivid, so far-reaching, and yet still so unreal that it no longer feels like a running joke or a concept as it does something generally unsettling.
Still, if they come through town. I'll be there. Though after reading this, there's no way I'd follow them on tour.