The reasons why people feel compelled to play rock music are many and varied, but the desire for public humiliation has rarely been indulged with quite as much enthusiasm as the Zip Code Rapists, the entertaining San Francisco duo of Gregg Turkington (mainly vocals) and John Harris Singer (mainly music — pretty ironic given his name, hunh?). To call the Rapists a Ween tribute band is actually unfair — the lo-fi wailing of their first phase is hardly as skilled or ambitious as Dean and Gene’s. Since music sure ain’t it, the pair’s main talent seems to be for pathological put-ons, atrocious cover songs and carefree self-abasement. You want high-concept absurdity? After thumbing their noses at the kings of corporate cool by knocking off an ingeniously awful 7-inch covering four songs originally released by Pavement, Liz Phair, Bettie Serveert and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 on Matador Records, the hoaxers orchestrated their own fraudulent breakup, a feud between two competing spin-off bands and the long-rumored reunion — all in the space of a year.
When not rubbishing songs by Chris Isaak, Dawn, Circle Jerks and Gordon Lightfoot, the duo spends the live side of Sing and Play the Three Doctors apologizing for their name, performance and existence. Lest anyone take them seriously, however, they also claim to have driven twelve hundred miles (the gig’s in San Francisco) and signed a contract with Columbia Records. The studio side affords them a chance to overdub a drum machine, lay on the noise guitar and improve the vocals, producing a minimal mess with such amusing items as the revisionist history of “President’s Song,” the swingin’ anti-egg-salad diatribe “Office Party” and the noise-guitar desperation of “Wired,” in which someone repeatedly interjects “I can’t breathe” with convincing constriction between coughs.
Although it crams ten short studio songs onto a 7-inch, The Man Can’t Bust Our Music! is the best of the band’s litter, a far more accomplished effort than the 12-inch debut. The duo manages to make surprisingly varied and inventive music from originals — the punkin’ “Kick in the Heads,” Turkington’s botched piano piece “Tuesday Street” and the profane Anglofried cartoon theme “Darn It Duck,” the bluegrass blipvert “Hotel One” — and a raucous freakout decimation of Mike Nesmith’s “Listen to the Band.” Anyway, no track lasts long enough to become a nuisance.
The Zip Code Rapists then pretended to tear apart in an acrimonious split. Singer formed the shockingly professional Zip Code Revue, a seductively sweet-sounding country-roots-acoustic ensemble that conscientiously spoils that illusion on Abundance by covering the parent group’s “Wired” and adding such hair-raising noise fiascoes as “Adams II” and “Tea in Djibouti.” (The CD also wrecks shit further with a skronky version of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and an obsequious lounge lunge at the Doors’ “Touch Me.”) Otherwise, the album is presentably sung and handsomely played by a bunch of sympathetic pals (including David Tholfsen of U.S. Saucer, whose “Begging Song” is on the program here, plus guests from Counting Crows and American Music Club). If not for the destructive digressions and occasionally bizarre lyrics (most conspicuously “Doctors Are Spreading Disease”), Abundance could generally pass in contemporary twang-pop circles — an amazing case of urban renewal.
Although Turkington’s contribution to the feud — the Three Doctor’s Band — has an intermittent country accent as well, he stays a lot closer to the Rapists’ minimalist crud in hashing away noisily at songs by Madonna, the Bee Gees, Monkees and others on the supposed quartet’s (mostly studio) Back to Basics “Live.” (Typical ZCR humor: “All songs written by the Three Doctors Band…except…” [followed by a credit list for all but one of the record’s selections].) Other than a dicey two-song concert singalong which features the band’s three other guitarists (moonlighters from Faith No More and Caroliner as well as a different member of U.S. Saucer), the album is an elementary effort that sounds like one talentless teenager’s bedroom-mirror rehearsal session, and is about that much fun to endure.
With their “differences” settled, the two Zip Code Rapists made a back-together-again-for-the-first-time comeback with the disarmingly competent 94124 EP, taking the opportunity to announce a new morality in the bozo-funky “Zip Code Gentlemen.” Of course, it’s a joke, and the skimpy record (six songs, a one-minute live fragment plus a self-described “filler” remix) soon finds the two up to their old tricks, faking their way through a dubious Nashville two-step (“I Need Him”), a muck-slinging product endorsement (“Ranch Style Beans”), sick-puppy pop (“Happy Like Larry”) and fucked-up live covers (“The Look of Love,” the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”). With that, plus the significant inclusion of a perverted Southwestern ballad (“Henderson”), the Zip Code Rapists finally reach their ultimate destination — they’re a Ween tribute band, after all.