Well, the album is almost redundant on the face of it. Most of the songs were built on the same relentless electropulse that was introduced on “Love Missile F-111.” They all had cut-up dub effects strewn throughout the whole production. There were originally samples galore, but EMI’s lawyers [never ones up for any fun] put the kibosh on that gambit, leaving the album with voice actors emoting, or in the case of Clint Eastwood, sound alikes quoting famous lines. The band and Moroder didn’t know about getting clearance in the Wild West days of the sampler.
The juxtaposition of the ads within the flow of the album feels more right than right and hearing the banded promo LP version with the links removed for airplay must count as the worst sort of comedown from the heady media overload vibe that the album legitimately attains. Some of the ads sound for all of the world as if the band mixed and recorded them. I suspect as much. The guitar vamps at the end of “Network 21” dovetail into the subsequent “Sex Bomb Boogie” like a fiend. One major point of reference that comes up with the inclusion of the ads that I’ve not heard anyone else mention, was that this marks the album as the obvious sequel to the brilliant Who album “The Who Sell Out” in more ways than one. That album also had a smattering of “ads” to better conjure up the heady pirate radio media stew that SSS were taking into the video age. Hell, Network 21 was real pirate video micro caster! I can’t believe that I’ve never heard the obvious debt to The Who being made on behalf of this album before.
Sure, most of the tracks seem like one big dub mix. “Rockit Miss USA” and “Massive Retaliation” attain a darker vibe than the rest here. The former is especially foreboding with its references to Berhnard Goetz via the opening subway squealing sound effects juxtaposed with not Clint Eastwood saying “go ahead, make my day” followed by gunshots. As if to make the allusions perfectly clear, the track ends abruptly with the Troy Canty soundbite of “I said give me five dollars” were repeated over with stuttered samples of “get the gun” over a bed of “hail to the chief.” It paints a picture of a violent New York City that’s not far removed from the ultraviolence of A Clockwork Orange and certainly not very satirical any more. 30 years later men with guns are still shooting unarmed men with dark skin with the gun manufacturers [who have congress in their pockets] cheering it all on.
“C’mon down and buy a sputnik. We have miles and miles of sputniks. They’re friendly. They’re cheap. They taste good. Because, a sputnik a day keeps the doctor away.”
“Massive Retaliation [M-A-D]” recalls FGTH’s “Two Tribes” in more ways than one with almost the same bass sample figuring in this track. Instead of the relentless, breakneck bassline of “Two Tribes,” this track was built on a more plodding beat that recalls “Let’s Go All The Way” by Sly Fox from the same year. The juxtaposition of the backing vocals and samples repeating “shut up” give the track a loopy sense of the absurd, never more prevalent than when a female announcer [!] delivers the quote above this paragraph only to be again followed by more “shut up” samples.
The final two tracks perk up from the gloom a bit. “Teenaged Thunder” and “She’s My Man” are just a few degrees of separation from one another. They proffer almost a rockabilly sensibility and end the album on a slightly flat note with a very low quotient of satire compared to the album at its stimulating best. And therein lies the paradox at the heart of “Flaunt It.” At its acme, it has more to offer than scores of the competition with an almost depthless Post-Modern ambiguity and a seemingly limitless ability to be parsed along any number of sociological vectors of inquiry. But all of this intellectual content is delivered at the expense of memorable tunes, even though some might say that good tunes would have defeated the whole purpose of this album! In other words, the sameness and surface banality of the music is the only honest embodiment of the ideas that it was built to serve! With one exception.
The musical heart of the album stands so far apart from the bulk of this album, that it almost should stop the momentum of the concepts in their tracks, except that “Atari Baby” plays instead like a lush oasis in the middle of a concrete brutalist city. The tune is at a fraction of the BPM of the rest of the album, and it offers what approaches a love song built from the vocabulary of the SSS project and points the way to a rare instance of the band having its cake and eating it too. The gorgeous song sounds like a close cousin to one of my favorite Art Of Noise tracks, “Snapshot” from “Daft.” Of course, what each of these songs have in common is the stirring B-F-E chord sequence from The Who’s “Baba O’ Reilley.” It invigorates each of these songs in turn and quite frankly I never grow weary of hearing them; even the venerable Who classic. “Atari Baby” shows that it may be possible for SSS to fulfill their intellectual brief while offering actual ear candy.
When I view the SSS website, I can see an additional eight albums of SSS material that have been released over the years, with much of it being of fairly recent vintage. Does anyone have any experiences with these and should I look into hearing more than the classic debut album? On the face of it, they needn’t have released anything else other than “Flaunt It” and perhaps too many 12″ singles to accompany it, but if they plowed the furrow of most of what I’ve already had for years, then I don’t mind having given it a pass. If they instead took “Atari Baby” as a direction to follow, then I might be interested in more from the 5th Generation of Rock & Roll.
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