The latest in an occasional series of reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley bands.
We all know the story of Orson Welles and “War of the Worlds,” at least in outline.
On Oct. 30, 1938, multifaceted creative force Welles presented a radio dramatization of alien invasion realistic enough to freak people out across the American Northeast.
Almost exactly 75 years later, Bethlehem electro-prog-pop-art-punk band Wet Dentist has dropped its own apocalyptic vision on the world in the form of a seven-track song cycle, These Are The Plutocrats.
It won’t send people screaming into the streets of New Jersey. But, like Welles’ show, These Are The Plutocrats presents a vision of a diseased America realistic enough to nag at the edges of your sense of fear.
The band (which may be one person, for all I know) says its latest music “takes place in the future, so that makes it kinda science fiction.”
The lyrics, which unspool in a delightfully crass stream-of-consciousness style, tell the story of a dystopian society in which the poor are oppressed and live in fear, while the rich and powerful use cheap foreign muscle to put their most venal fantasies into play. Sorta like 21st-century America on steroids, bent for the worse.
A taste of the vision from song five, “Seize Them”:
Guards, seize them, for that what they’ve done.
I will pick apart their loved ones’ lives,
but bring them to me first, unbroken and conscious.
You deploy some insect drones; you know where to send them.
Notify the senator. There’s gonna be some corpses.
Get your education on.
And then I’m gonna buy another island . . .
because I love my wife.
Or, from “Have Them Fight Our War Here For Us”:
The number of neighborhoods to penetrate is irrelevent. [sic]
Overtime pay will be kept to a minimum.
We got the labor laws of Indonesia coupled with our plans for after dark.
We see an endless supply of applicants, and frankly,
there aren’t enough people on the other side that are still allowed to vote.
And on it goes, black-humored without being heavy-handed, usually declaimed in an electronically distorted speaking voice by some anonymous set of vocal cords.
(The voice of Wet Dentist actually isn’t a bad singer. “Who I Am” features him singing, rather than speaking; he carries the melody nicely, while bringing the narrator’s hubris and distance to life. He oughta do more of that on their next album, in my humble opinion.)
Just to bring the vision a little closer, final track “Next?” features a twist that suggests digital music listeners aren’t going to end up on the right side of the line in the warped future.
But I won’t spoil the details, because These Are The Plutocrats is well worth checking out on your own.
Musically, it’s catchy enough under its cranked-up, abrasive edges. (Those songs that risk becoming monotonous end before they get there.)
Lyrically, it lands enough of its punches to stick in the mind for a little while after you’re done listening. As riffs against The Man go, these are more engaging and better-executed than most.
Check it out, then. Like “War of the Worlds,” it may leave you glad you don’t live in its world, while wondering just how thick the walls are that protect you.
Wet Dentist’s “These Are The Plutocrats” is available as a name-your-own-price download here.