Oi to the World! (Kung Fu)
by Scott Hefflon
Gentile readers of the punk rock persuasion, take heart! Now there is a Christmas album recorded just for you. That’s right, Christmas with the Vandals: Oi to the World! Not available through any fly-by-night mail order in Kalamazoo, Michigan, this special is only available in stores. So set aside all those Mormon Tabernacle Choir records, those yuppified Sinatra and other half-soused crooning Christmas comps, those Muzak-massacres masquerading as holiday hits, ’cause the kids are gonna have their say!
It begins with gunfire and ends with a suicide, as all quality Christmas albums should. Aside from “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and John “King Missile/Dog Fly Religion” Hall’s “Jesus Was Way Cool,” Oi to the World! has all the essential X-mas songs for anyone who’d rather hear the whine of the dentist’s drill than another seasonal slaughter of Casio caroling at the mall, piped in pain to the flustered consumer, trapped like maze-weaving mice in gridlock, subjected to the sadism of Hooked on Christmas. Give me network TV A Clockwork Orange style any day.
Opening this professionally-wrapped package is “A Gun For Christmas,” the over-caffeinated singalong story of protecting your gifts. Blend Dave Quackenbush’s penchant for yelping vocals out of his range with The Vandals traditional style of highly skilled musicians playing less-is-more-profitable punk, and then add an inkling of keyboard tinkling in the chorus, and you have a quick sip of potent schmegnogg. I’m uncertain whether the keyboard is trying to imitate a glockenspiel or a xylophone, so I thought I’d mention ’em both. When else am I going to get to? From there, we transition into a pretty punk ditty called “Grandpa’s Last Xmas,” with its universal theme of being nice to a mean old relative who’s been on his last leg for years. While many songs have stated the “you’re old, please die” sentiment, few do it with such melody and caustic wit. The the closing vowel, held long and trembling after the rest of the song had the courtesy of winding down, is just so symbolic. Who said punk rock doesn’t have its subtle side? “Thanx For Nothing” is a bitter Fuck You card sent to all the selfish assholes. The fastball “Fa, la, la”s at the beginning and end have got to be the most painful since those childhood scars of sitting in church, listening to tone-and-otherwise deaf blue-headed prunes screeching hymns with a dizzying vibrato that’d make most metal warblers pack up their spandex and hit the road, Jack. And then it’s theme song time with “Oi To The World.” Besides the nicey-nice ending of “Can’t we all just get along,” the tune has great, amusing lyrics that’ll touch the hearts of music lovers young and old. The gritty street punk guitar sound and tough guy chanting Oi! chorus offset Dave’s chain-smoking-and-leather-clad-Mickey-Mouse-after-a-few- beers voice and create a gangbanger’s Christmas carol, if ever there was one. The authentic cockney cropping of vocals only adds to the appeal of such Unity-inspiring sayings as “If God came down on Christmas day, I know exactly what he’d say. He’d say Oi to the punks, and Oi to the skins, but Oi to the world and everybody wins!” Next up is “Nothing’s Going To Ruin My Holiday,” a tale of the perpetually pissed’s determination to keep their happy thoughts in spite of the insulting, grumpy/bitchy relatives, the shitty weather, the vomit-inducing food, and the fact that you’ve got to share it with family you have the common sense to avoid like the Black Plague the other 364 days of the year. Finishing off the first half (side one for you cassette collectors) is the soon-to-be-a-classic “Christmas Time For My Penis.” Sounding similar to an orchestrated Erasure ballad except for the multitude of flat notes and missed cascades (reminds me of whoever’s bright idea it was to let Tony Lombardo sing on TonyAll), the song swells with passion, then gets soft and tender afterward. Not only a love song to a man’s closest friend, it’s a tribute and celebration of an often overlooked member. While not the shot heard ’round the world, the firings (and misfirings) of the little gun is surely the most fanatic battle of them all. Touching lyrics like “I know I have let you down, when you only needed a hand” and the closing “I know you’ve been feeling down, all pent up it’s so hard to breathe. Don’t fret this Christmas – you’ll get the attention you need,” are sung sweetly in a rich, sensitive male baritone.
“I Don’t Believe in Santa Claus” leaps back into the punk rock railings (oh, with distortion too!) against the brainwashing propaganda of mandatory consumerism, fear-induced good behavior monitored by Santa “Big Brother” Claus, and the voluntary enslavement to fund the obligatory token gesture of selflessness, peace, love, and brotherhood as personified by the mythical imagery of the bearded big guy in the blood red suit. Either that, or it’s just a catchy song similar to the one your older brother used to taunt you with while beating you up and making you cry like a sissy. “My First Christmas (As A Woman)” confesses “I never wanted army men or basketballs, I only wanted pantyhose and Barbie Dolls. And dressing up in mother’s clothing,” and really brings back those fond memories I never had. (Maybe my big brother’s fag-bashing tendencies were showing through even then. He’s since been “liberated” after doing time and being “encouraged” to experiment with role-reversal.) I was still cringing from the attempted rhyme “I won’t have to tuck it behind me, since I got my brand new vaginee” when the squirming pre-chorus of “Cut it off! Chop it off! My penis, chop it off!” came on. Shiver. Luckily, the triumphant cry of “I can finally be a woman!” held the last note almost as long as the snappily-dressed pretty-funny-boys did in The Three Amigos. Following that, is “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” (What is it with homo references here? Is it me?). “D.o.t.S.P.F.” is galloped through with such lightening precision, I doubt any ’80s speedmetal band coulda matched it. I’m not sure that’s a compliment, but perhaps they salvaged their punk credentials by ending with a shouted “Hey!” While the skaed out “Here I Am Lord” is clever, it sure woulda been nice if they played it in a key the singer could reach. Even if just a few notes were right, it’d be less painful. Again, shiver. Luckily, the raw riot Brit punk of “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S” snarls a smile back to the face. Not since Megadeth’s “F-R-E-E-D-O-M” have we had such a shoutable pop spelling quiz. While lyrics aren’t included in the CD booklet, if you sneer like Billy Idol and mispronounce most of your words in a terrible “old skool” accent, you’ll probably get the general gist. The closing number, “Hang Myself From The Tree,” is countrified depression at its best. Sparse strumming, mournful vocals about the loneliness of spending the holidays alone, the subtle ohs and ahs of the chorus, the tuba blatting a funeral march, and then the sad, yet oddly sexy, sax accompanying you along the fading-down-a-long-tunnel production until a disquieting Dr. Who kinda spaceship noise hovers in the air, scratching like an old record on a player that doesn’t automatically pick up at the end, minutes of eerie crackling long after the record has played its course. While not the closure I was anticipating, it rounds out a record that covers all the mood swings of the holiday season.