Album Review: The Dead Milkmen, “The King In Yellow”

Everyone’s favorite obnoxious punk band is back, after only 16 years!  That’s right, I’m talking about The Dead Milkmen, who have an all-new album recorded and ready to go.  The Milkmen broke up in 1995, but got back together in 2008 after playing a few shows that went well for them.  After composing new songs and touring for a few years, they began recording The King In Yellow in 2010, and released the hard copy of that album today.  I’ve been pretty freakin’ happy since I found out, and I imagine some of our readers (and authors) are too.

The semi-eponymous first track of The King In Yellow sounds like classic Milkmen, and is reminiscent of their past instrumentals, like “kksuck2” off Eat Your Paisley!.  Halfway through the track there’s a transition into the second part of the title, “William Bloat,” and Joe Jack Talcum comes in singing for the first time in a long time.  I was delighted to discover his voice is pretty much the same as it was on all their old albums, with a heavy Philly accent and an obnoxious inflection.  On some louder, angrier tracks it’s a bit more strained, but that could also be due to better recording equipment and more shouting than they’ve done in the past.

The album keeps in touch with the humorous vein that runs through all of The Dead Milkmen’s albums, and a couple songs make me bust out laughing every time I hear them.  “Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song” is the best example, and it’s hands-down my personal favorite song on The King In Yellow.  It’s definitely a “rant” song, with Joe Jack Talcum (that name is only fun when written out in full) sending out a scorching criticism of stupidity.  As far as other hilarious hits go, check out “Some Young Guy,” a weird song about a middle-aged man spying on “some young guy” for no good reason.  Rodney Anonymous takes over the mic on this song, and his voice is also pleasantly unchanged.

They’re quite political on this album, which stays in character with all of their past work.  “Commodify Your Dissent” asks the listener “Who will buy the rights to the next revolution?”, which is an interesting question, considering the times.  I’d like to see their answer to that musing, since there has been a few revolutions since the album was finished.  Along with “Commodify,” some other witty and sarcastic political songs include “She’s Affected,” “13th Century Boy,” “Caitlin Childs,” and the previously mentioned “Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song.”  All of their songs have a sense of dissatisfaction, with both society and government, but some are more up-front about it than others.

As for the musical styling on The King In Yellow: I love it.  It’s obviously The Dead Milkmen playing, but they’re a bit tighter and more skilled than they’ve been in the past.  That might sound contrary to their usual style, but somehow they manage to combine their old sound with a new level of talent and come out winning.  Newcomer Dan Stevens plays bass on the album, replacing Dave Blood after his suicide in 2004.  Dan does an excellent job matching Dave’s playing style, and his bass is a rhythmic compliment to Dean Clean’s drumming.  There’s a very predominant surf-music feel throughout the album, with reverb-tastic, gainy sounding guitars on almost every track.  The song “Hangman” has some sweet theremin playing going on, something I feel is essential to all good surf.  The 3rd-to-last track, “Can’t Relax,” is sort of a mellow ska song, with horns and a twisty skank riff.  There’s also a subtle sense of folk-punk present, most noticeable in the lyrical stylings and on songs like “The King In Yellow/William Bloat.”  Furthering the folk-punk vibe is a bit of Irish fiddling going on in “Cold Hard Ground,” which sounds like an upbeat version of “Watching Scotty Die” off Bucky Fellini.  Most songs on the album can be linked with past works of theirs in terms of style and composition, but everything present on The King In Yellow still feels fresh and exciting to a longtime Milkmen fan.

The Dead Milkmen have a rather unique achievement on their hands when it comes to The King In Yellow: a current release from an older punk band that pleases past fans AND still manages to remain completely relevant and original.  I’m pleased as a fan of their older albums, and I’m also pleased as someone who sees too many unoriginal new releases from bands that were once great.  Way to keep it up, Milkmen!  Here’s to a Now We Are 30 album, and beyond!

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