Monday, December 22, 2014

In Defense Of: Powerman 5000, Tonight, the Stars Revolt!

This In Defense Of was contributed by Greg Hanson: mad doctor, big cheese, and son of X-51.

“So face forward, with arms wide open and mind reeling. Your future has arrived. Are you ready to go?” The announcer of some great unknown B-movie beckons in the spoken word intro of Tonight, the Stars Revolt!, before the mercilessly crunchy guitar open of “Supernova Goes Pop” throws you into a starship careening towards the sun.

My love for Powerman 5000, or PM5k for all you aficionados out there, started with endless MTV viewing sprees during my nü metal phase, circa 2000. I would watch TRL and slog through the Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera vids to get to the goods — Korn's “Freak on a Leash” or “Got the Life” — and laugh at how much of a tool Carson was (and continues to be). To me, these videos were the first evidence that the underground could take over the public consciousness at a point when all these bands felt like mine. At some point, Powerman 5000's “When Worlds Collide” started playing in rotation, featuring a campy Alien meets Flash Gordon video where their lead singer Spider ended up fighting some alien overlord with lasers. And the song was super-catchy. Hell yeah.

From there, they were catapulted into some sort of stardom, as many latched onto Powerman through their songs' pervasive appearance on the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 soundtrack (alongside other greats and not-so-greats). You could rock out whilst shredding the gnar as one of your favorite skaters. What's not to love?

“When Worlds Collide” clearly overshadowed the rest of their record, and even the name of the band itself, proving to be a song everyone knows even when they forgot who performed it. Two of the other openers also proved to be fairly successful singles and album standouts — "Supernova Goes Pop” and “Nobody's Real” — the former opening up the record with a (big) bang of driving pop metal and the latter laying a robotic industrial melody that turns into a mid-tempo burner with a catchy-as-hell chorus.

But even the deep cuts somehow hold up! Maybe better than they did the first time 'round. The record’s titular call-to-arms “Tonight, the Stars Revolt!” is a heavy driver that's reminiscent of any of the good Fear Factory rekkids, with Spider switching between that Jonathan Davis quiet speak-singing that plays better here and full-on hardcore punk screaming. “Watch the Sky for Me” is a great departure for the band — playing a fittingly lo-fi ‘50s rock number with a waltz beat and piano conjures images of letterman-jacketed teenagers heading blindly down from Lovers' Lane only to encounter beings...beings from another world. What else do I need to convince ya? How about a cover of The Cars' “Let the Good Times Roll”? Cuz it's there. It's all there, brutha.

To be clear, this is adolescent music. It takes about ten seconds to connect these dots. The singer has bleached blonde hair, they're called “Powerman 5000,” and their records are covered in ‘50s-style ephemera updated by hip-hop artist styling. As a matter of fact, their prior record Mega!! Kung Fu Radio was a rap-metal love letter to Eastern B-movies. COME ON, PEOPLE. On our last tour, three dudes who hadn't listened to the song in years all started singing “Nobody's Real.” You know you've got a rad song when everyone can sing the whole damn thing at 10am in Nashville when no one is even fully awake. You're a fool if you think differently.

For years to come, the whole nü metal explosion became the butt of many a topical joke. And for good reason — the overwrought “dark” imagery and lyrical content was appealing to a young sixth- or seventh-grade version of myself. Plus Powerman 5000 might have fared worse than many due to their “one-hit wonder” status and Spider's place in rock history as Rob Zombie's little brother. But upon reflection, PM5k stands higher than, dare I say, the vast majority of late-‘90s metal bands.

You could argue that PM5k is just aping the White Zombie/Rob Zombie thing, and I'd admit you have an argument. But, I would argue, after the dissolution of White Zombie, PM5k stepped in to take the torch and run with it. Yes, Rob Zombie kept going, but he pushed the more industrial portions of his pioneering band; Powerman pushed more of the pop elements and did it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. And if you're going to ape a band — like any good B-movie apes an A-movie — at least ape something that was totally awesome (and I think White Zombie is about as good as '90s metal gets). This shit plays out like every late-night midnight double feature ever written combined into one rock ‘n’ roll record.

And what works about them is just that: nü metal suffered from its abject seriousness, where everyone was tortured by some unknown childhood demon that told them to paint their nails black — you know, that whole “Did you know Jonathan Davis used to work in a morgue?” kick. It was the crossroads of hard rock, goth, and industrial, and for some reason no one looked like they had any fun doing it. But PM5k had the cojones to come out wearing $10 hardware store space-age getups with songs about traversing the galaxy and watching the skies. You could dance to it or crowd surf or riot, I guess (the kind of stuff that Woodstock '99 was made of, for better and often worse).

So when you hear people espousing “all nü metal sucks” (most notably in the wake of Wayne Static's recent, untimely demise), face forward, with arms wide open and mind reeling, and point out, “Most nü metal sucks. Except Powerman 5000. They were pretty cool.”

— Greg Hanson

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