Chainsaw Kittens – The All American

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

I saw Chainsaw Kittens in concert once, in the summer of 1994. At that show I met the woman who would end up being the mother of my children (and for a time, my wife); it bears emphasizing that she was *not* there to see Chainsaw Kittens, she was there to see the Counting Crows. So on top of all the musical joy and satisfaction the Kittens have provided over the years, they also were instrumental in giving me the greatest gifts of my life.

What I Think of This Album

This final Kittens album is a fine but bittersweet way for the band to bow out. Tyson Meade and Trent Bell sound fully in command of what they are doing, and they are doing whatever they damn well please. The title is a bit of a giveaway. The band, of course, is from Oklahoma, but much of this country would find them to be anything but “All American.” Of course, those people don’t get to fucking decide, and Meade and cohorts are out to claim everything that they are entitled to.

As on the self-titled fourth album, they cast about and try different things, but this effort is a little more focused. And like the previous platter, this one lacks the loud guitars the band was known for early on. In fact, this is a very piano-heavy album (courtesy mostly of Derek Brown, and on two songs, Andy Nunez). Piano glam? Sure, why not. “All American Wiggle Wiggle” is as absurd as its title suggests (representative lyrics:  “You don’t have to hold your tummy in” and “Sitting on the sidewalk cookin’ up some eggs / Baby, let me cook them on your chest”), and you can tell Meade is having a blast indulging his weirdness on a song that, it should be mentioned, is an excellent piece of music and display of musicianship.

Attempting to outdo himself with the song titles, Meade also offers up “Gleaming Soft White Teens,” which charms with lyrics like “And who says their souls haven’t resurfaced / And why shouldn’t they be killed?” and “Listen to Barry White on acid,” more glorious proof that Meade doesn’t give a crap what you think of him. Oh, and the melody is first-rate, with a hyper-elastic bass part, and guitars that hit just right.

Bell drives the catchy “International Me,” which is on the radio in an alternate America. The unsettling epic “Calling From Space” has martial drums, twinkling piano, distorted guitar slashes, synth swoops, and a fantastic vocal from Meade. “Wedding” is a sweet song about a wedding (“You can dance with my dad / He’s not a good dancer”), and all the more touching for its realist depiction of the big event.

“How Many Lightbulbs” is fairly lightweight and intriguingly self-deprecating (“How many guitars does it take to come up with a song / Oh, you’ve known all along”), but that guitar crunch is hard to deny, as are the synth flourishes, and as usual, Meade just flat out sells it. In case you haven’t caught on to how idiosyncratic things are, this is an album whose first lyrics are “abortion clinic bomb.”

The album’s highlight, though, is “John Wayne,” with its shocking, repeated line “John Wayne hates gays;” a reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, it is equally haunting and thrilling, and a master class in construction, arrangement, and emotion. The album closes with a medley of the Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat” and Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” (co-written with Bowie).

Meade went on to spend several years teaching English in China, and he released a couple of solo albums, neither of which I have ever listened to.

The Best Thing About This Album

“John Wayne” is a song you never forget.

Release Date

September, 2000

The Cover Art

Arguably the best album cover of the Kittens’ career. It is clean and simple, and also goofy and weird. I like the way the words are lined up and the contrasting colors, and the way it seems like it’s one sentence, which must have been an intentional joke.

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