Reviewed by Greenbacks Russell and Tye Sachs
Tuesday, October 3 2000, 8:26 PM
Irony is the curse of our age, and Milwaukee's The Frogs are cursed with as much of it as anybody. After all these years, sincerity is still passe in the underground, so if you argue that Racially Yours is insincere and fraudulent, well, then you just don't get it. It's this kind of defensive posturing that makes The Frogs difficult to criticize, because every time they indulge themselves in a stereotype of what it means to be black or queer, the pardon always granted the band is that they're playfully deconstructing the primitive from the inside. The problem, however, is that The Frogs have too much fun inhabiting the mind of the so-called enemy. So much so, that at a certain point you have to wonder whether The Frogs' affinity for the Archie Bunkers of the world conceals the fact that the band finds such dispositions truly seductive. Racially Yours is no exception.
Lying around since the early '90s because of the manner in which it tries to parody racism, Racially Yours has consistently been deemed " too controversial" to release. Even the band's early defender Gerard Cosloy (who put out The Frogs' legendary queer-themed 1989 LP, Its Only Right and Natural on Homestead) is supposed to have declined to release it on his Matador label after issuing their second official full length, My Daughter the Broad. Subsequently, Racially Yours has taken on a mythology of its own by virtue of its mere unavailability. Nonetheless, nearly a decade after it was made, Chicago's 4 Alarm records has finally put Racially Yours out, and it is exactly what you'd expect: The Frogs gone in drag as African-Americans, wearing blackface.
The problem, of course, is that the political context which informs the album is much more morally loaded than The Frogs' shtick can actually deal with. After all, they're white guys from Wisconsin. Racially Yours embodies this lack of self-consciousness because it's over the top reliance on racist stereotypes demonstrates the band's inability to see beyond it's own use of parody. While a sense of humor like theirs could yield so much in this regard, instead, it all dissolves into a never-ending exercise in obnoxious puerility instead of being a truly funny send up of racism. It's like 13-year-olds with a tape recorder, making up songs about all the things they know they're not supposed to, using all the bad words they know. End of story.
Frogs fans argue that it's all a joke; that you shouldn't take this stuff seriously, that people shouldn't be so politically correct and should just lighten up. But that's a cop-out; The Frogs' music permits the ironic perpetuation of stereotypical imagery, allowing cover for racist/sexist/homophobic remarks through their humor without having to take responsibility. If that really is the intended case and not just another example of smart hipsters allowing themselves the pleasure of transgressing liberal political etiquette, then maybe its time for The Frogs to record an album of Skrewdriver covers. At least that would take less effort.
In all seriousness, this is not to say that progressives don't need a sense of humor, because they do. That's one of the reasons why many people find bands like The Frogs so charming. The problem is that the joy the band takes in inhabiting the icons of conservative typecasting - the fawning queer looking for his lost hamster, the singing, mindless negro - are rendered objects of forbidden pleasure, irrespective of their own histories as reflections of sexual and ethnic discrimination. This suggests something much darker; not just about The Frogs, but also about how irony can serve as a mask to legitimately regress when its no longer 'cool' to do so.
Racially Yours is a 4Alarm Records release