Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
A while back, I happened to catch this synth-pop trio called the Prima Donnas at the Black Cat. I never cared for synth-poptoo much floppy-haired foppery for me, thank youbut these lads were something different. I loved their thick British accents, and one tune in particular, “Mick Jagger’s Pussy,” totally cracked me up.
They were genius.
Afterward, I was at a back table when Bernie Wandel, the club’s manager, bopped by.
“Those Brits were fun,” I said.
“You mean the Prima Donnas?” He looked confused. “They’re from Texas.”
Make that total genius.
It’s been a long wait, but the Prima Donnas have finally released a full-length. Drugs Sex & Discothequescheekily dubbed “Selected B-Sides and Outtakes, 1995 to 1999, Volume 2” in the liner notesdoesn’t include “Mick Jagger’s Pussy,” but it does boast a couple of angry punk numbers, a handful of droll rich-kids-on-junk slices of club life, a frantic ska tune, and even an anti-anthem so smart and sexy it would do Jarvis Cocker proud.
Some misguided souls might be tempted to dismiss the Prima Donnas as a joke band. And, hell, they may be a joke band. But then again, so were the Beastie Boys, the Dictators, the Mothers of Invention, Funkadelic, Devo, the Sex Pistols, and the B-52’s. Like those bands, the Prima Donnas play out their joke with such boundless energy, passion, and heart that the end result is, well, artand art of such snotty good cheer that the joke is ultimately on the group’s detractors.
As its title implies, Drugs Sex & Discotheques is an extended catalog of the joys of drugs, sex, and being young and in a synth-pop bandwhich, as everybody knows, is the very best kind of band to do drugs and have sex in, if only because you’ll never have to share with the drum machine. Speaking of drum machines, the Prima Donnas’ is about as cruddy-sounding as they comewhich, of course, just makes their tongue-in-cheek schtick all the more endearing.
Album opener “Nance Music Manifesto” not only is eminently danceable but also constitutes a sort of combination mission statement/declaration of sexual politics that will no doubt be scrutinized by junior rock scholars and budding Masterses and Johnsons at elite universities of the future. It begins with a reflection on onanism (“No more helpings of Skin-So-Soft/Applied to your penis when you’re all alone/So, so sad, but easy to condone/You know the teens need something to set them free”) before segueing into the band’s raison d’être: “Consider what we’re doing a public service/Without us the kids would all be nervous/Repressed, jittery, and all pent-up/Light the fuse and they fuck shit up/We diffuse their aggression with our sultry beats/Gettin’ all the boys and girls beneath the sheets.” Call me biased, but the Nobel people really ought to consider giving a certain faux-British synth-pop band a big award.
The promise of liberation through music runs throughout Drugs Sex & Discotheques. “Song for All the World’s Children” opens with a killer Beastie Boys-damaged riff before evolving into some kind of unholy cross between Tom Petty and the Human League, but its subject matter is older than Chuck Berryit is, in fact, the very DNA of pointless teen rebellion: “Gonna get out of town/Or I’m gonna explode/’Cause I heard a new sound/Gonna hit the road.”
After hearing such a brilliant take on the all-American rock ‘n’ roll ethos, you don’t really expect a declaration of British musical chauvinism. Especially one as great as the punk throwback “F.U.K.” Vocalist Otto Matik starts things off with an Iggyesque “Well I feel alright,” casts aspersions on the good ol’ U.S. of A., and then announces that “I’m ready to fight/With my six-shooter on my side/Seen all your westerns and I’m prepared to die/’Cause I’m a U.K. Cherokee”all while Nikki Holiday and Julius Seizure produce menacingly Clashlike sounds on their keyboards. Just when you thought the spiritual currency of punk had been forever debased by the likes of blink-182 and Sum 41, along comes a fitting tribute to the anarchic sounds of 1976 in the form of a punk song done synth-pop-style by a couple of Yanks pretending to be Brits putting down Yanks. Will wonders never cease?
If you’re looking for something a bit more dance-floor-friendly, then I urge you to check out the bouncy “Headful of Pills.” In this “Boys of Summer” sendup, Matik dredges up “bittersweet memories” of summers spent at the condo with his junked-out supermodel lover. “I must admit that I still get down/When I think about how you looked when you almost drowned,” he sings. “And I wish that I could always be there/To pull you from the waterbed by the back of your hair.” Ah, reckless youth.
The album’s best moment, the bleakly romantic “Lavender Shakedown,” is not only likely the first song ever to endorse Zima as a lipstick remover but also shows that the Prima Donnas are capable of giving even Pulp a run for the money in the darkness-at-the-heart-of-the-disco-demimonde department. As the vocals alternate between Matik’s audible sneer and Holiday’s smooth, resigned baritone, the band unfolds a story of romantic betrayal that’s as archly hilarious as anything by a bunch of real-life Brits: “And now you’ve gone and lost your leopard-print bikini/I know that it was teeny, but it’s not the kind of thing you misplace/…Don’t cry, those are lies in your eyes/And my best friend saw you dangling from the lips of a guy.”
Don’t get me wrong; Matik’s voice is definitely an acquired taste, and though the Prima Donnas may be the funniest synth-pop band I’ve ever heard, they’re still making synth-pop. I played Drugs Sex & Discotheques for my wife, and her verdict is, I expect, one that will be shared by many: “Great concept, but I’d never play the album.” Me, I’ll always be a sucker for a song title as smart/dumb as “Love You, Schizo Sickie.” Or lyrics as great as “Oh Nigel, I’m so sorry/I have a confession to make/I jacked off in your diary.”
Like I said before: total genius. CP