The tabloids are full of rumors that Nobunny is, in "real life," this friend of mine named Justin Champlin. Fair enough—and it is a little strange how you never see the two in the same place at the same time—but it's more fun to imagine Nobunny as some kind of inter-planetary being—hailing from some magical planet called Gamma Gamma Goochee in the Pizza Centauri system—where King Uszniewicz rules on his throne and does nothing all day but drink Strohs and honk a golden atonal saxophone, where pussies do dogs, where Joey's the Ramone who gets the girl, where the masses assume serious and patriotic expressions and doff their hats at sporting events when "Surfin' Bird" plays, where the faces of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Weird Al Yankovic, and Dave E. MacManus are chiseled into the sides of mountains. It's an enchanted land of bubble gum dance party fingerbangs, of Olympic torches lit by silent-but-deadly fifth grade farters od'd on Whoppers and Mad Magazine...and out of this utopian world, Nobunny emerges, and like all good Gamma Gamma Goocheeans, he finds inspiration in everything that has ever worked ever at any point in time in rock and roll, and the sounds he makes are so perfectly fun and enjoyable and libido-stirring that the planet's head of intelligence—a secret chimp named Lancelot Link—deems it necessary to share the rich bounties of their culture and to send Nobunny (via Strippergram) to the planet Earth to, in part, save us from whatever soporific indie-rock Pitchfork has deemed terribly important this week. I don't know; it's just a theory.
Perhaps the truth is this: Champlin/Nobunny has an extraordinary gift for writing the dumb/smart simple/complex pop song, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more dedicated to what he's doing, someone more genuinely excited by the bands he plays with, someone more inspired and inspiring, than Nobunny. The dude has paid his dues and then some, has been a great friend to me and the bands I've played in over the years...which kinda makes it a goddamn relief that this new album of his, First Blood, is not only the album that should lead to the (even) wider audiences he deserves, but manages the neat trick of keeping the f-u-n spirit of Love Visions (even if First Blood reveals a more introspective rabbit) going while coupling it with having the chance to take full advantage of the possibilities inherent in having access to better production.
Indeed, it might have been a little difficult to notice the, um, nuance, in the first Nobunny LP Love Visions, buried as it was in the recording quality and the frenzied p-a-r-t-y of the songs. And, of course, the rawness of it—the glorious U-Toneish slop of the thing—was a big part of the charm—both on record and live from when he was backed up by a recording or whoever he could assemble to play with him that night. This relative cleanliness in the production of First Blood is the aspect that takes the most getting used to. Whereas the sense that everything could fall apart at any moment was—granted, entertaining—but a bit of a distraction from the quality of the songwriting, now there' s a consistent backing band who know the songs backwards and forwards. Check the way that cowbell heightens the magic of the Velvety jam "Blow Dumb," or those econo Tony Visconti frills in the T Rexxtatic "Breathe," or the inevitable circus sounds overdubbed on the album's terrific closer "I Was On (The Bozo Show)." To say nothing of all those handclaps, the whistling, the acoustic guitar, the pianos...and note that guitar solo at the end of "Pretty Little Trouble." Once you can deal with the fact that First Blood is its own deal and not Love Visions Part II and should be treated accordingly, it's clear Nobunny has escaped the potential musical straightacket that might've happened to him had he simply stuck to the same tried-and-true formula.
Which isn't to say Nobunny has lost his overall horniness, that Chuck Berry-ish under/over-current of teenage junk-trunkin' whackadoodle-doo. (It will be one dark motherfucking day in rock and roll if, God forbid, that ever happens...) The song "(Do The) Fuck Yourself" should in and of itself eliminate any doubt on the matter, but if for some insane reason you're still skeptical, be sure and have a listen to "Never Been Kissed" and "Pretty Please Me."
But yeah-there's some introspection going on-of the proverbial silly rabbit as trebled troubadour, affirming/reflecting on the budget rock life in the song "Breathe": "they say to go for the gold/then save it up when you're old/but I'm-a die /so I spend it young/they say to work very hard/and I do—watch me now/and I'm gonna get my fun/all I wanna do is breathe/and you/I wanna breathe with you." In what is arguably the real winner on this album, "(I Was On) The Bozo Show," Champlin sings of looking back on darker times, "I have a million regrets/one billion bad ideas/open my door for death/and let him waltz right in." It takes some guts to be that vulnerable, especially when, as I was saying before, Nobunny could have probably done the same thing over and over again and nothing but the law of diminishing returns would have stopped him. But here's the thing with Nobunny: Even at his silliest and/or raunchiest, the lyrics are always way more creative and interesting than most bands on the poppy side of the spectrum, who generally tend to gravitate to cliché after cliché after cliché, lyrics treated almost as a banal afterthought. In under twenty-five minutes, First Blood proves without a doubt that Justin knows exactly what he's doing with writing songs, even if we've been led, at times, to believe that he has no idea what he's doing. And, even with the introspection, First Blood is still a great party record, only now, it's also a record you could consider playing while waiting for the next day's hangover to subside. [Goner]
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