Lyricist/singer Adam Sherburne, drum programmer Philip Steir and keyboard “operator” Mark Pistel have said that their mission as Consolidated is to take revolution to the dancefloor. Using house, hip-hop, rock, funk, rap, industrial noise and an endless flurry of samples, the band’s devout message includes anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-capitalist rants as well as a militant stance in favor of reproductive choice, animal rights and vegetarianism.
Sherburne was born a military brat and raised in Monterey, California; he trained to be an athlete but threw it away to play music. That eventually led him to Until December, a San Francisco new wave group he later recalled as a “profiteering, rape-oriented band.” Pistel was born in Minnesota, where his father worked rehabilitating handicapped people; he started his first rock’n’roll band at age nine. Steir grew up in Piedmont, an ultra-rich and conservative neighborhood of Oakland, CA. They met when Pistel and Steir replaced departed members of Until December.
As Consolidated, the trio vowed to make music that mattered, an industrial-strength assault on what they call “the racist, sexist, capitalist system known as the music business.” The harsh, stripped-down six-song ¡Consolidated! EP (which contains the proclamation of purpose “Consolidated” in two mixes) was followed by Myth of Rock. The set has a dark industrial edge, but the music is undermined by the humorless, patronizing tone of the vocals. On tracks like “Dysfunctional Relationship” and “Message to the People,” the band is preaching, not entertaining; the message may be politically correct but the stance is as sanctimonious as that of any right-wing fundamentalist.
Early on, the band made a point of engaging its fans in dialectic conversations during and after gigs; on Friendly Fa$cism, Consolidated experiments with “inter-active democracy” by dropping sampled snippets of these dialogues into their tunes. Ironically, “Unity of Oppression,” a track that slams America’s corporate mentality, made MTV’s Top 10 video list for ’91. Still, the insufferably self-righteous tone makes the disc hard to endure.
Play More Music has guest appearances by Paris, who adds some much-needed street cred, and feisty Berkeley feminist rap trio the Yeastie Girlz (on “You Suck”), who bring some much-needed humor to the proceedings, but neither can stop the beats from sinking under the weight of Consolidated’s self-important rhetoric. (Even the 26-second opening track, an angry public dialogue documented as “I Reckon You Should Shut the Fuck Up,” has an enigmatic sense of duty, to someone or something, about it.)
Making a politically daring move to a major label for Business of Punishment, the trio sounds like any other industro-metal-rap band. The lyrical density that undermines the appeal of the dance beats remains in full effect, although there are flashes of bitter (if unintentional) humor in “Dog + Pony Show,” a detailed screed against the band’s record company (“This will be the last time a label tries to jerk us ’cause we can get worked on Nettwerk…and no you can’t have the fucking back catalog…”), while “Woman Shoots John,” a “Superfly” parody in which a prostitute kills a customer, proves the band capable of compassionate and compelling music after all.
Steir opted out, and Consolidated proceeded as a duo. A maturing sense of self, rising literary sensitivity and a wider stylistic range distinguishes Dropped, which rockets easily through Prince-ly soul crooning, Hendrix-influenced balladry and rock, and Public Enemy-styled rap. To Sherburne’s credit, he’s dropped the explicit polemics and found ways to let his anger fly with more art and critical self-reflection than ever before. A little like Rollins, he makes private suffering as good a topic as public outrage, ripping down his own pretensions in “Schnitzel Boy,” a rap-rock record company dig in which he rhymes, “Born into privilege and wealth yet I still draw attention to myself…networking with the liberal white chicks in tights / Come back backstage we’ll talk animal rights.” In “Red Flags and Bags,” he announces “I want to make love to you” but then immediately stomps on his own glasses, warning, “Look beneath the surface a frightened child you’ll find / I’m damaged goods…I’d probably bring you down.”
Sherburne waxes funky, lets down his romantic hair and even sings (after a Peter Wolf-y oomagooma fashion) in his side project, but makes a point of clinging to his impossible moral high ground and obsessive guilt on Childman. Dispensing with hard techno beats, the bizarre ride includes Hendrixy guitar rock (“3 Reasons”), a grim pregnancy story (“False Positive”) recited over a wailing siren, the audio documentary of a birth (“Lily J.A.C.”), newsreel samples and some grooves as musically inviting as Spearhead’s. Although it’s obvious Sherburne is working to humanize and soften his approach here, the ridiculous “Refuse to Be a Man” is as absurd as anything in Consolidated’s repertoire.