The article below was originally written for and published by Crawdaddy! in two thousand ten. Since that time my appreciation for the enormously absurd album discussed has only grown deeper. Just call me Stretch Nuts.
Quality, essence, virtue—terms that, by this point, are rarely (if ever) debated when it comes to Insane Clown Posse, the ultimate bastard sons of music. True Juggalos have already unconditionally accepted the alleged greatness of rapping jesters Violent J & Shaggy 2 Dope like the most fervent born again Christians, while those outside “The Dark Carnival” have difficulty thinking of a more pathetic and misguided social subset America has produced. Even Civil War re-enactors rank higher than Juggalos, mostly because of their stately 1860s facial hair and the vintage weapons they brandish that could blow your spleen across a Long John Silver’s parking lot.
The Juggalos are one thing; overzealous fans of any entity (Paul McCartney, the Green Bay Packers, the Twilight franchise) can be intolerable. Is it fair, though, to automatically malign and dismiss the Wicked Clowns themselves? I was viewing the much-ballyhooed video for ICP’s “Miracles” the other day, and I have to say, aside from the LOL-inducing, are-they-serious? lyrics, the song is pretty boring. Straight up, “Miracles” is a boring ass song. The clowns aren’t even really rapping, they’re just kinda talking softly (save for that jaw-dropping “fuck scientists” bit). The beat in “Mircales” is equally flaccid. The sub-mediocrity I saw before me got the rusty gears in my brain turning.
These guys weren’t always this bad.
Yeah, yeah, Insane Clown Posse used to be, like, kind of exciting. Actually almost insane, even. 1997. The Great Milenko. Everyone I knew had that album. Everyone I knew loved that album. It was funny, it was weird, it was stupid, the songs had legitimately cool beats. The clowns had dreadlocks. They relied heavily on the term “stretch nuts.” They screamed shit like their trashy Midwestern lives depended on it.
What happened? Am I crazy? Is this selective amnesia?
As my steam-powered noggin began chugging, I remembered that I had very similar thoughts of disappointment when ICP released the limp single “Let’s Go All The Way” in 2000. It sounded like fuckin’ half-assed 311. Where was the evil calliope music? I was dumbfounded when I saw Violent J in the video with closely cropped bleach blonde hair. Were the Wicked Clowns selling out on the final Joker’s Card?
I’m not sure it’s possible to sell out when your group is named Insane Clown Posse and you’ve been signed to a Disney subsidiary for an amount of time that can be measured in hours. Hollywood Records paid $1 million for the rights to release The Great Milenko in 1997 after a groundswell of industry buzz. Then, someone in khakis actually listened to the thing, and Disney realized these clowns were insane in the stabby killy way, not the wearing-Hawaiian-shirts-to-business-meetings way. Hollywood withdrew Milenko the same day it was released (even though it had already sold nearly 20,000 copies and was climbing up the charts) and canceled all future plans for ICP. The Clowns were at an autograph signing when they learned they were no longer part of Donald Duck’s extended family.
I can think of ten thousand hardcore punk bands who wish they could say they were kicked off a major label like that. Let’s face it: ICP were the Clinton Era’s Sex Pistols, and Disney was their great rock n’ roll swindle.
Though nowhere near as invigorating or groundbreaking as the Sex Pistols, the Insane Clown posse of Great Milenko remain worthy of more praise than they’ve ever received. Milenko offers the same template of boiling suburban rage, infectious beats, hilarious rhymes, and comically graphic violence that Eminem rode to global renown just a year or two later. Granted, Eminem is a better rapper than either Clown, but as far as gimmicks go, Em’s reference-every-current-tabloid-headline approach probably dates his material more than ICP’s insistence they belong to an evil carnival from another dimension. Besides, Eminem was already complaining about the pressures his superstar lifestyle on his second album. Marshall Mathers gets on “TRL” a couple times and bro-ham can’t handle the pressure. Boo hoo. Didn’t you fool around with Mariah Carey? Yeah, you don’t get to complain about anything.
The Great Milenko is Insane Clown Posse’s fourth album, and never again would they sound this legitimately disturbed, hilariously demented, or crazy frightening. Possibly the greatest example of this comes almost midway through the “House Of Horrors,” when Violent J intones the following:
“Lemme show you something—[makes high-pitched raspberry noise] / You know what that means? it don’t mean nothin’! / But it scared you, ’cause people don’t be doin’ that shit / But me? [makes noise again] / Bitch, [makes once noise again] I’m all about it!”
Think about that for a minute. An overweight harlequin with dreadlocks invites you into his dark, foreboding fun house. Suddenly, he turns to you amidst the dry ice and strobe lights and starts excitedly making noises with his mouth. Can you honestly say you wouldn’t vigorously soil your Tommy John boxer shorts at that very moment?
The Clowns’ bizarre viewpoint also pops up in the slow, introspective jam “How Many Times?” At first, it seems like this song is just another chill rap tune about dealing with life’s smaller aggravations (particularly highway traffic). Then, apropos of nothing, one of the clowns starts losing his shit because he cannot pay for fast food by imparting scientific knowledge upon the cashier (“Can I walk into McDonald’s to the counter / and tell ’em you can make limestone from gun powder? / Will they give me a cheeseburger if I know that shit? / Fuck no, fuck you, and shut your fuckin’ lip!”). That ICP favors the barter system comes as no surprise, as I don’t believe psychotic circus workers generally keep bank accounts.
I’d call it a double standard that people have been regularly eating up GWAR for so many years when their musical output is at least equally as stupid as ICP’s, but everyone involved here is a white male from flyover states. GWAR wears foam rubber cocks that shoot fake ejaculate all over their audience and they get more respect from the outside world than ICP. Does that make any sense? Perhaps ICP lowered their market value by aligning themselves with an off-brand soft drink like Faygo. Winn Dixie brand doesn’t cost much more, and it carries a less backwoods stigma. Good rule of thumb: if they can afford to put a NASCAR driver on the bottle, you won’t look stupid drinking it.
Another point to ponder: if the Insane Clown Posse is so bad, how come legends like Alice Cooper and Slash make appearances on Milenko? Those guys don’t necessarily go around lending their legacies to crap (Alice Cooper was in Wayne’s World, for the love of Chris Farley). What could Slash have to gain by appearing on the major label debut of some rapping clown band? Nothing, really, aside from a paycheck he probably didn’t need. He’s Slash! He must have simply dug the hot circus jams.
Perhaps it’s all a tomayto / tomahto thing. I believe there’s some kind of genius in lyrics like “He eats Monopoly and shits out Connect Four!” (Violent J’s description of an average ICP fan in “What Is A Juggalo?”). If you can’t see that, I guess we’re just in opposite time zones. This entire debate brings to mind an astute remark usually attributed to actress Mary Woronov: there is a difference between art and bullshit; sometimes, bullshit is more interesting.
Yes, The Great Milenko is targeted at people who would rather spend a Saturday afternoon watching “Charles In Charge” and doing whippets as opposed to visiting the nearest Christo exhibit or foreign film fest. Yet you can’t view this album through the same “OMG, irony fail!” prism as “Miracles.” Milenko is a finely-tuned, gratifying journey through the admittedly low brow genre of horrorcore, second only to the first Gravediggaz album in terms of relative greatness. Juggalo fervor has overshadowed ICP’s music in recent years, be it good or bad. No one seemed to bat an eye when the Clowns released 2007’s The Tempest, possibly the first hip-hop album featuring a song about a roller coaster. Seems like they had to make a crazy joint like “Miracles” just remind people they’re an actual musical group and not just some out-there trailer park cult.
Hopefully one day bizarre and sickening minutia like Juggalo baby coffins will be separated from ICP’s musical catalog and The Great Milenko will garner recognition as the worthwhile exercise in cathartic silliness it is. If Music From “The Elder” by Kiss could eventually find a home in our shared cultural circle, there’s hope yet for the fourth Joker’s Card.
According to me, some guy.
Only the grit-streaked bark of ’87 Axl could sell lyrical bits like “space brain” and “west coast struttin'” and “rattlesnake suitcase.” This song boogies like a career drunk taking his final sobriety test. Accurately conveys whatever we believe about the “the rock n’ roll lifestyle.” Also, there’s cowbell.
Frosty nihilism thaws into an earnest ballad. The nakedly emotive second half is just Wagnerian enough to retain the dark thrust of the first. Features a slide guitar break so good it distracts you from competing sex noises. Who needs the Meatloafery of “November Rain” when “Rocket Queen?” exists?
Best exemplifies the Guns N’ Roses mission statement of “we are Aerosmith by way of the Dead Boys.” Also includes the more literal mantra: “come with me, don’t ask me where ’cause I don’t know.” If we’re to believe Appetite For Destruction killed hair metal this was the fatal stab.
The band’s star turn, wherein they drag sugary pop harmony through a greasy, rust-laden junkyard. Even the dubious moves work. “Jungle” is the “Search & Destroy” of whatever genre GNR were claiming. They sort of invented their own here. Chainsaw glam? Dive bar punk?
The best “message” song in the Guns catalog. Too bad civil war is exactly what tore this band apart (which makes Slash’s Snakepit the Reconstruction Era). Too bad this illustrative and anthemic display is forever in the shadows of the Use Your Illusion video trilogy MTV rammed down our dry throats.
Sincerity cloaked in gloom. Walks right up to the border of overblown ballad and flips the bird. It’s not hard to imagine Nirvana performing this one, which is why it managed to slip through the apex of grunge unscathed. Slash’s slow-burn solo is one of his absolute best.
Keeps you on the edge of your seat for six goddamn minutes. The most cinematic of GNR rockers; no wonder it ended up in Terminator 2. Closes with that fantastic breathless Axl rant, which includes one of my favorite non sequiturs—“don’t forget to call my lawyer with ridiculous demands!”
If a bar fight were a song…you can almost feel the pool chalk being shoved up your nose. The bass line sounds how I imagine cocaine tastes. So full of piss, vinegar, and acid it’s hard to believe they didn’t bang it out they night the band formed. Maybe they did?
Could be a parody of the Appetite aesthetic, could be a pure adrenalin shot. Either way, I’ll take it every time, if just to burn off paranoia / nervous energy. The sound effects almost turn the whole thing into a “Far Side” cartoon. That’s not a complaint.
More an experiment than a song, like a free form poem with chunks of heavy metal improv (and, of course, on-the-nose hospital reenactments). Maybe that makes “Coma” the precursor to the Lou Reed / Metallica album. I’m not even sure it works, but man do they commit. Boredom never arrives.
Hilarious pundit C. LeMar McLean joins us for the most recent episode of “Yaxzon Jackson” to discuss the confusing anthem “Give In To Me.” Things really heat up when we decide to tear Slash a new hat hole!
Apologies for not posting these eps in a more a timely manner. I have no excuse and should be beaten with a shoe for my insolence.
Last month, Dr Pepper issued a press release that stated it would give everyone in America a free can of their sweet, delicious beverage if Axl Rose finally unleashes Chinese Democracy, the long-awaited sixth Guns n’ Roses studio album, this year. Unfortunately, Axl’s a Mr. Pibb kinda guy. No, I’m kidding. The mercurial Rose quickly responded to this strange offer by stating that he was pleased to have Dr Pepper’s support; unfortunately, he said nothing about the album or the probability that you or I will have eight ounces of free soda in our hands by the year’s end.
For those keeping score at home, the legendary Chinese Democracy has been well over a decade in the making. Axl’s burned through $13 million making this puppy so far. That’s nearly as much as it cost George Lucas to make the first Star Wars movie (the one with Mark Hamill from 1977). In addition to contributions from uber-drummer Josh Freese and Academy Award nominated composer Marco Beltrami, Chinese Democracy also allegedly boasts guest performances by the likes of Brian May, Shaquille O’Neal, and Sebastian Bach. I think I can accurately sum up humanity’s response to all that with a quick and simple “God damn!”
Since work began on Chinese Democracy, every original member of Guns n’ Roses except for Axl has quit, a few of the people Axl hired to replace the original members have quit, a Pope died, we figured out who Deep Throat was, the Red Sox broke their ninety year old curse, the telegram has been phased out as a viable form of communication, the McRib has come back at least twice, New Kids on the Block reunited, three Batman movies been made, three Spider-Man movies have been made, new Rocky and Rambo movies have been made, scientists have seriously started talking about colonizing the moon, and Tim Meadows finally left “Saturday Night Live.” I don’t think there are any other cultural milestones left to wait for. Come on, Axl, turn this bad boy in and get me a Pepper.
The only thing that kind of sticks in my craw about this strange cross promotion is that Dr Pepper’s offer excludes two people: former GNR guitarists Slash and Buckethead. In Axl’s cheery response to Dr P, he said he’d have no problem sharing his free can with the latter six string wizard, as some of his work will be featured on Chinese Democracy. That leaves poor ol’ Slash out in the cold with nothing but his top hat to warm him, and I hardly think that’s right.
Dr Pepper, I think in your attempt to be cute you lost sight of something extremely important: without Slash, there’d be no Guns n’ Roses. His chaotic, bluesy guitar work was a cornerstone of the band’s original sound, just as integral as Axl’s chainsaw vocals or Duff McKagan’s slithering bass. You can’t tell me Appetite for Destruction would have been the same landmark rock album had Tracii Guns stuck around in the lead guitar slot. If you did, you’d be a self-delusional fool and, much like Mr. T, I would pity you.
Indeed, without the facially-obscured, alcohol-soaked fretwork of Saul “Slash” Hudson, we wouldn’t be sitting here eagerly awaiting a new Guns n’ Roses record this late in the game. Besides, it’s not like he or Buckethead are personally responsible for Chinese Democracy’s lengthy delay. That’s all Axl, baby. If you’re going to arbitrarily exclude former Gunners from this promotion, shit, I say Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke should be on the outs (they know what they did).
So relent already, Dr P. Get into the ring and give the man who first welcomed us to the jungle a can of your Mr. Brownstone. I’m sure he’ll be in Paradise City once he hears you’re no longer using your illusions. It’s so easy. The two of you will no longer be estranged, he’ll be your rocket queen again, and this spaghetti incident will be water under the bridge.