A few years ago, we were writing our first post on Bill Nelson’s Red Noise album and some time afterward, we got a comment from the drummer for the Red Noise tour, Steve Peer. We welcomed him to the comments and with the recent Red Noise BSOG [Boxed Set Of God] we can now hear Peer’s drum playing from the single Red Noise tour immortalized within. But Red Noise was only one of Peer’s projects. Prior to being tapped by Bill Nelson for Red Noise duty, he was drumming in the New Jersey Post-Punk band TV Toy. Whom I remembered from the halcyon days [or were they Xanax® days…?] of Trouser Press.
A short while ago Mr. Peer got in touch with news of his latest project which has come to fruition in the pandemic with 40 of his friends from all over the world adding their contribution to his portfolio of songs. His website dared to invoke the spirit of “The Who Sell Out” as part of its inspiration so how could I not bite with bait like that? The collective was [brilliantly] called Steve’s Theme Park and what could the album be called except “It’s A Global Rock Thing?”
Steve’s Theme Park: It’s A Global Rock Thing – US – CD 
- Dandy Man
- The Famous Transatlantic Dance Band
- Sister Supersonic
- Cheshire Moon
- No More Heroes
- You Didn’t Want Me
- Subterranean Suburban Rock Stars
- New World
- Motorcycle Ceilidh
- Lost In Jersey
- Living Room [1901-1945]
- Rockin’ Senorita
- All For The Love Of Rock And Roll
“Dandy Man” set the pace right up front with its blatant cop of the “Pretty Vacant” guitar riff letting us know that this album, which was about Rock music itself as much as anything, would be holding nothing sacred in its search for kicks. Tommy Frenzy of the Tuff Darts was the first of over a dozen vocalists here, adopting a slightly sarcastic tone [complete with muttered asides] for the witty rocker. And Jay Lundstrom added rolling Mott-esque piano to keep the mood light and moving.
By track two, I thought that it was going to be a game of “spot the riff” as the intro to “I Can’t Explain” was roped into service for use on “The Famous Transatlantic Dance Band.” But that was not a theme, as “Cheshire Moon” effectively proved as the bus went off road to explore a Country music landscape courtesy of Stan Steele’s raspy, multitracked vocals and jaunty blend of acoustic and electric guitars. Steele was an engineer at The Power Station and his prowess gave this track immense polish as he took Peer’s murder ballad [the man singing was the victim here] and made of it a thing of wonder.
When I saw “No More Heroes” I couldn’t help but think of The Stranglers, but that was just a red herring as the track featured a duet between Tommy Frenzy and Gemma Parr-Smith lamenting the fact that the rock stars were dropping like flies.
Most, but not all of the songs were Steve Peer outings, but the quirky and surreal “Chip” was instead from the pen of Rob Barth, one of Peer’s old compadres in TV Toy. The guitar riffage made me want to sing “Born To Be Wild” along with it, but the lyric could not have been more different from Steppenwolf!
“Nostalgia” was an effective rant against the same from Frenzy with his tuff guitar tone getting some stiff competition from the bass of Bob Strete, who was called upon to play on the album adding that Jean Jacques-Burnel touch according to Peer. Well, that he certainly did!
Another song that’s sticking with me was the self-referential “Subterranean Suburban Rockstars” with lyrics that probably came the closest to autobiography for Peer, who actually co-wrote the song with Harley Fine. Then Stan Steele was back with Annie Schwartz and Hokee Tala for the zany “New World” where the guy who had come across like a Country star on “Cheshire Moon” a few songs back, was now slinging the lyrics like a hyped up commercial pitchman on this beefed-up jingle of a song. That did sound fully in the spirit of “The Who Sell Out.” Steele played everything but the drums here and received special Monastic kudos for his highly Enoesque atonal synth solo in the middle eight.
For sheer musical gene-splicing, one would be hard-pressed to push to further extremes than on “Motorcycle Ceilidh.” It was a Celtic/glam-metal mashup with Uilleann pipes and bodhran by Chris Gray with the way, way, over the top vocals by Gregg Mitchell pulling a note from the Eddie Cochran playbook with the basso profundo interjections of “Bring the kids, the dog and Grandma everyone you can” ala “I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote” from “Summertime Blues.”
A surprise musical hand grenade was lobbed in our direction with the radical re-think of “Nostalgie” being a string-laden, German Weimar Cabaret/Rock hybrid of the song “Nostalgia” as sung by the enigmatic Zara. Frederick Hanke’s sterling bass and cello work added to the theatrical flair of this version which was easily able to sit a mere three songs down on the playlist from the earlier version.
At first blush, the cover of TV Toy’s “Living Room [1901-1945]”seemed to interpolate “Smells like Teen Spirit” into it’s riffage but that was actually a trick. You see, the TV Toy original from the late 70s already sounded like that. Begging the question what if Nirvana were closet TV Toy fans. Except that “Living Room” was an unreleased demo prior to the TV Toy compilation CD of 2006. Over a decade after Nirvana were kaput. Hmmmm. The long coda here sampled John Kennedy’s “Peace In Our Time” speech for a thought-provoking note to end on.
Possibly my favorite song here was the sprightly Norteño ditty “Rockin’ Senorita” with maximum “quoi quotient” provided by the French accented vocal of Ms. Laurence Storm of Captain Storm. Mr. Steele once more pulled another vocal approach out of his bag of tricks and this one just makes me very happy.
The album wrapped up with another cover version. This time it was the perfect summary for the album being Tuff Darts “All For The Love of Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Sung not by Tommy Frenzy but by Kyle Duckworth this time. Peer tells us in the liner notes that Frenzy approved. And then the party was over.
This album played almost like a stage show about Rock music with meta-contextual lyrical subtext that made of it a love letter to the very notion of playing Rock. It remembered to not take itself very seriously and I feel that with just a little bit of libretto work, it could be made in to an effective fringe festival stage show to put on a shelf next to “Hedwig And the Angry Inch.” Many of the vocals here had a theatrical air suggesting the work of actors as much as singers.
Best of all, the sixteen songs in under 50 minutes stood little chance of making anyone check their watch. Giving us a very eclectic sampling of music mostly written by Steve Peer, but with the playing and singing by the huge, disparate cast of the album, the only cohesive glue was the lyrical point of view which usually viewed the corpus of Rock with a jaundiced, yet affectionate eye. In terms of style and engineering the album was a wild ride of the, yes, theme park variety.
My only suggestion after the fact would have been to employ Stan Steele’s talents to give it all the same engineering polish that he applied to the cuts he worked on, but I think that the sprawling nature of the project was to just get these songs down and have fun doing it in a pandemic with everyone working remotely. That it happened in two years was a near miracle and now we can hold it in our hands, so there’s that.
Anyone interested in hearing Steve’s Theme park can hear the music on the usual streaming platforms, or if you’re of a download bent, it’s on iTunes. If you want it on CD, the route is a little circuitous but it can be done. Steve Peer pressed up a thousand CDs and they are not for sale. If you want one, all you have to do is hit that button below and ask nicely. Tell him The Monk sent you.