The Dead Milkmen were always an idea band. A band who sparkled or fizzled depending on that idea, with some songs brilliant and others that made you dream they’d invent a music format where you could skip to the next song with the simple push of a button.
Some things change, others don’t.
Pretty Music for Pretty People is the Dead Milkmen’s second LP since returning to action with The King in Yellow. What this record shows is that, for all the talk of bands that mature with time, there’s always a desire to revert. The 18 tracks here are fully in line with the band’s back catalog: simple structured songs that joke and play with ideas, mostly social-satirical in nature, that drive and repeat at their idea over a 2-4 minute period. The music is important as always, but the Dead Milkmen really succeed or fail based on the lyrical/musical combination. Sometimes it’s fun, intriguing, and energetic, as in “Anthropology Days,” and at other times it feels stagnant, as in “The Sun Turns Our Patio Into a Lifeless Hell.” The songs work well when the subject matter is interesting and grows or tells a story from start to finish. The other songs falter when it’s more a repetition of a concept that doesn’t really gather steam or capture the imagination. The energy behind the lyrics is always a key part, and the band has a tendency to get overly repetitive within songs. The aforementioned “The Sun Turns Our Patio…” is one such example, and the slow pacing of “Sanitary Times” makes it feel much longer than just 2:35. After its drudgery, though, comes “Ronald Reagan Killed the Black Dahlia,” a peppy number with a staccato beat and finger-picking guitar that keeps it on the plus. Plus, Reagan-bashing is familiar territory for any band formed in the 1980s so they know what they’re talking about.
As bands resurrect after inactivity it’s rare to find one that feels like no step was missed. Dead Milkmen are successful in keeping up where they left off, but they haven’t improved on some of the weaker parts either. The production here is definitely a step ahead of their old material, but there are still a lot of forgettables scattered throughout Pretty Music for Pretty People to make it a dismissable record. It has its bright spots but it never keeps that momentum flowing for a sustainable period. Ending with the nearly 5-minute ballad duet, “Little Rebel Mine,” Pretty Music ices the already familiar tone. The air is let out of the tire.
6.5 / 10
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