The Shit - Get With the Program…Before the Program Gets You
Tim Miller 15/03/2008
The Shit - Get With the Program…Before the Program Gets You (Shit Music)
(…Or, an essay, of sorts, and of no considerable length or credibility, on culture.)
What joy, for a music scribe, to find a CD so packed with contradicting observations: chockfull of easy targets for the snide remark, the ironic snigger that we world-weary journos deliver with such panache; yet here with caution in case second-guessing the level of intelligence that may be brimming among the songs. What an opportunity for a person of words: a simple CD review-cum-cultural essay. But first: the name.
'The Shit' has ambiguous connotations in modern culture, something which one would hope is deliberately exploited by this seemingly one-man band Brian International (with copious assistance on most tracks from friends), although I wouldn't like to over- or underestimate the irony on display here at this point. “That is good shit”, you might overhear some weed-quaffing teen rasp, that wonderful contemporary oxymoron whereby, devoid of the intellect - or the motivation to employ it - to cast around for a noun, someone uses a word commonly associated with excrement to define with unconscious juxtaposition an object or thing that is, in actuality, good, decent, fine.
Alternatively, as alluded to above, something 'shit' can mean something terrible. An acquaintance's parent dies, that's shit. You get a rubbish mark in an exam, it's not just rubbish, but also shit. England's recent performance against Wales in the Six Nations was shit.
So we begin the journey through this 5-track EP on very uncertain footing, becoming even more so when the opener 'Turn On Tune In Rock Out!', with a very misleading exclamation mark, turns out to be a 25 second recording of an attempt to put on a CD, a snippet of hi-hat and squeals of atonal feedback. 'The Idiots are Winning', following this…noise, is at least competent. But giving any more clarification? Not a chance.
A tinny electro beat of rave proportions, with bursts of buzz-saw guitar providing something approaching substance, subsidises loutish vocals volleying cynical lines like “The idiots are winning! The idiots are winning! Brainless broadcasting civilisation! The idiots are winning! The idiots are winning! Dumbing down the mindless generation!” into the shadows cast by high rise estates. It is, however, the fact that this song, and indeed the entire EP, sounds as though it was recorded alongside the soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog, that offers something juicier, musically speaking, to bite on.
If Jeremy and Super Hans from Peep Show ever did actually release a CD, it would no doubt sound like Get With the Program…Before the Program Gets You. Spirals of electronic bleeps, squeaks, descending twitters of robotic kitsch, unnecessary but unavoidable talking points for what would otherwise be a throwaway cobbling together of drum 'n' bass and lightweight guitar derivatives, completely transform the landscape with their potential in-yer-fuckin'-face irony, prancing all around those chanted vocals that attack the very culture their Parklife intonations seem to be a by-product of. Intelligent, self-reflective throwbacking, or the mindless generation playing with their little toys? Though these nostalgic SNES sounds glisten like tinsel on a plastic Christmas tree, that is to say that they provide a very artificial creation with a basic level of artificial intelligence, even if it is drawn from a heavily-referenced heyday, it remains unclear whether, as a whole, this is intentional, or just luck.
Certainly, when track four 'Virtual Reality' begins by announcing the big boss on level 8 of sub-prime neo-world, this displays no artistic merit but simple tongue-in-cheek self-congratulation. Furthermore, the EP's guitar 'riffs' - for want of a less commending word- seem afraid to ever move to a note or chord more than two steps away, the vocals are intent on repeating the one line throughout each chorus, and the drum patterns beg to agree all the time, just at slightly different tempos for the four songs. The quirky references to Super Mario and '80s arcade games might continue to induce a wry smile, but in this day and age, even the nostalgic in-jokes have already been pilfered for quite some time. One might even question whether or not The Shit have been 'got' by the program themselves by falling back on an overused twist to act as the only real weapon in a musical arsenal far, far from potent. Reel Big Fish gave the Tetris theme a Ska makeover years ago, for crying out loud.
You have to take the time to listen what is being shouted at you, by a vocalist who might just be the middle brother between Jamie T and Bez, before dismissing this EP out of hand.
The lyrics do in fact belie the somewhat gormless LED soundscapes with an angry wit taking pot shots at an appropriate subject material for a spell of culture bashing. Some choices lines: “Their brain cells went peroxide blonde, the idiots are winning 'cause they can't tell right from wrong” from 'The Idiots Are Winning', without much competition the outstanding track here, being as it is the first song, and the rest sound very similar. However, elsewhere 'The Descent of Man' contains such gems as “Monkey do as monkey see, as we evolve into human-zees / As we use text messaging slang, cavemen descend into orang-utans”, bitterly comical attacks that stem from a pen so disillusioned with society that more reasonable, constructive observation is rendered pointless.
These humorous asides are incredibly incongruous with the music accompaniment, however. But maybe that's the point. It sounds like it could be knocked up in little over half an hour: the same rehashed beats, tuneless vocals, limited guitar work, ageing Nintendo sounds. Yet its lyrics savage a society in love with a celebrity culture that endorses brainless art like this. The Shit's EP is wrapped in onion-like layers of irony, the central meaning lost in its own contradiction of near-idiotic music and intelligently wry imagery. The irony: of songs that could soundtrack a YouTube video of teenage gang warfare while simultaneously taking a vitriolic swipe at its stars; of an artist ambivalently calling himself The Shit; of a slice of modern'art' that contains as much beauty as a stickman adaptation of The Last Supper.
Maybe, as a last interpretation, this is The Shit's fundamental message. Or perhaps it's just a warning that can be heeded from this EP, unbeknown to its cretinous maker. This is the heights to which one need only aspire in today's society. This EP is both a product and a damning symbol of what's left of our culture: an insightful (if cynical) critique marginalised by the trappings of a cultural institution, in this case music, which is simply an assortment of insipid and jarring influences. The question is; does its creator realise his own contradiction? Is Get With the Program… the work of a highly perceptive critic, masquerading as bit of a lad with a penchant for Space Invaders?
Or does this EP simply indicate, after all, that the idiots are, indeed, winning?