Art rock, in its many forms, can be distinctly hit-or-miss. New York State-via-Detroit veterans Leisure Class hit the bullseye more often than the backboard in the punk rock carnival shooting gallery that is Parents Night At The Leper Colony.
These guys (and girls) are more a collective than a band with no less than 23 players and a mascot (Mr Unique) credited. Or maybe that's "were" as the 20 tracks date from 1979-94. As far as i can tell, drummer-pianist-organist Glenn Johnson has long been the driving force behind the band's considerable recorded legacy. He must throw some big parties because apart from the core members, there are another 15 "guests" along for the ride.
But it's about the music. And the sarcasm. To these ears, Leisure Class come across as a punk rock version of Frank Zappa's bands i.e. not as smarmy and much more abrasive, cutting a swathe through straight rockers, new wave-ish edgy pop, warped jazz and gospel. That's a lot of bases to cover and Leisure Class are up to the job. The odd mutant instrumental ("Alfonso And The Gum Tree", the jazzy "Fragment 3") serves as a resting point between strident and varied diatribes.
Saw-edged guitar and Dimitri Mugianis' grab-you-by-the-throat vocals run through most of the cuts. "I Love You More" might just be the pick of the bunch, a searing take on the lyrical ode to the New York streets that Lou used to deliver in bucket-loads, but now punctuated by stabbing brass.
There's enough two-chord punk ("Weekend Punk") or tripped-out speed metal ("Stalin" - all 18 seconds of it) to sate the hardcore crew but much of this music requires you to think too.
You may find it hard to resolve a song title like "Tuberculosis Is Back" with lyrics like "Tuberculosis is back/Listen to them hack" with a Memphis horns musical accompaniment. The Richard Harris wistfulness of "Sorry I Made You Cry" won't sit well on your iPod with your Sex Pistols collection either, but do you think Leisure Class give a shit? Theirs is a highly cynical world view that's spelt out in "Young Gifted And White" and that should tell you a lot.
If you have a short attention span you might find the twists and U-turns of Parents Night hard to absorb in a straight one-hour sitting. If so, pretend it's a vinyl LP and take a break in the middle. This quicksand's pretty warm once you get in past the waist.
- The Barman
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