Milk Milk Lemonade Still Not Getting Any Younger
28 years and counting: a few more old notes
People do still listen to it. For fun
Milk Milk Lemonade is my band’s fourth full-length album, and quite a strange one it is. It’s nearly thirty years old. I was reminded of it just yesterday by one of those Facebook “memories” that popped up, from 2011, nine years ago, wherein I typed:
Just found the original lyrics of “Ready, Set, Go” and you’d all be totally shocked at what they were.
There followed some discussion and comments worth quoting, some of which I’ve pulled and reproduced below, including:
Man, I am listening to Milk Milk Lemonade now. What a fucked up album.
(If you’re wondering, the shocking original lyrics of “Ready, Set, Go” are not revealed there, nor here, nor will they ever be in my lifetime.)
This was at the very beginning of the process of listening and re-assessment of the old catalog that ultimately led to the Mtx forever and Shards compilations and now to the re-issue project that’s just getting off the ground with …and the Women Who Love Them.
To quote myself:
This assessment project really stretches back to 2011, when I dug out the old records and started listening to them as though I were an uninvolved listener. I then posted about it on the FB, and comments ensued. At that point, re-issuing them, especially on vinyl, wasn’t a realistic possibility. And the band hadn’t been active since 2004 and didn’t seem too likely to re-activate. I was doing it as an exercise, I suppose, just wondering aloud what could or should be done with this stuff, if anything, and considering the question of to what degree if, if any, this stuff should be preserved as to opposed to allowed to sink into oblivion.
The exercise continues, but broadly speaking with regard to Milk Milk Lemonade, I’m still in agreement with myself on the general assessment at the end of it:
MML, listened to as though I had nothing to do with it: [a] god that snare sound is truly awful; [b] the album is a lot more cohesive than I remembered and way more than it probably should be, having been so random and slap-dash; [c] the guitar solo on “There’s Something Wrong with Me” is way better than what that guy usually plays.
But there was, in fact, a lot more to be said. I gathered some of these “old notes” (adding additonal commentary) in previous posts — on MML, along with …atWWLM and Our Bodies Our Selves here; on Love Is Dead; and on Revenge Is Sweet and So Are You and Show Business Is My Life here.
This particular post, however, eluded me — and indeed was a surprise when it popped up — so, as I said, there’s a selection below, including, at the end a lengthy riff on how rock journalists that I’ve encountered in my so-called career have never seemed all that interested in the music and songs. Something about the trousers, no doubt.
First, though, is an retrospective essay on the album that I wrote last year on its twenty-seventh anniversary. I’m reproducing it here because in its original form (a minds.com post) is just as unsearchable as the Facebook thread. I had a devil of a time finding it, in fact, because back then I was a bit lazier about cross-referencing posts. So here it is, search-for-able, for what it’s worth, and readable now for anyone who might be interested, if such there be.
Finally, outside of the obvious mid-90s albums that everybody likes the most, this is the one whose re-isssue I get asked about the most. The current thinking on that is, I want to re-issue it, but it really has to be re-mixed, which is a whole can of worms the opening of which may be beyond our resources and technical capabilities at present, not to mention my attention span. But the masters do survive so it still could happen if and when I ever get my act together to that degree. As to whether that could happen, well, you never know.
Milk Milk Lemonade at 27
So, my band’s fourth full-length album, Milk Milk Lemonade, was released 27 years (that is, half my life) ago. You’d think I’d have got used to these sorts of milestones by now, but they’re always weird to contemplate.
Some “minor secrets” are, perhaps, in order. Ahem…
I’ve been listening to this record in various states quite a lot recently in the process of selecting songs for the Mtx forever compilation, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of alternate versions, and trying to plan what should be done to make whatever might be selected most “presentable.” This album is quite a strange beast. It was ridiculously ambitious for it’s tiny budget and all the complexity and strange production ideas and experimentation left lots of loose ends dangling and a whole lot of room for a great many things to go awry. Moreover, I was still very much feeling my way blindly in the general direction of songwriting. There are flashes of, well, if not Songwriting Greatness, I suppose you’d say: songwriting competence, and there’s certainly a whole lot uniqueness, for what that’s worth. But as with the sonic adventurism, much of which also managed against all odds to “come off,” these flashes were kindled and fired off amidst a good deal of awkwardness. For many years the things that went awry and the awkwardness were all I was able to hear, and I shied away from it, mostly.
Now I see it a bit differently, as a product of all its factors, from the unintentionally kinda sorta sublime to the mis-intentionally ridiculous, and as an artifact of a minor, rather unusual arm of punk rock history that still somehow remains impactful decades later. (Which you really can’t say about all that many little records like this.) People still listen to it. For fun. Which is something I’d never have predicted. (My delusions of grandeur during recording were tremendous indeed, but they didn’t stretch to imagining anyone would be paying any attention to it thirty years thence: I couldn’t even imagine life past 30 myself.) And in a world where so much sounds the same as everything else, then as now, it is unique, for better or worse.
It certainly sounded nothing like anything our “contemporaries” were doing, those in our little Lookout world and those outside it. And as for “fans,” it threw them all for a loop. (Though the follow-up threw the same people for a loop too, many of whom had decided they liked the one particular loop after all and wished we would stay there: so it goes.) It is the strangest sounding record we’ve ever done, and quite possibly the strangest-sounding thing Lookout ever put out.
But underneath it all were at least some pretty good songs, and maybe more importantly some very good foundations for avenues of approach to songwriting that would produce much more effective results later on. As I’ve written before, somewhere, the grasping but not reaching itself seems to lend a certain verisimilitude to songs meant to communicate a sense of confusion and a feeling of directionlessness. You couldn’t do it on purpose if you tried.
I really believe that. e.g. “See It Now”. I could write that song better now, far better. But it wouldn’t be better. Not being better is better, at least in a certain sense. I guess that’s what you call a paradox.
On the production, arrangement, and sonic side of things, one curious consequence of having such a low budget with which to try to execute such a riot of complicated ideas is… there was hardly any room for “stretching out” and experimenting in the studio as a “real band” might have done. The experimentation did happen, but whatever the results of any given experiment, we were pretty much stuck with them with no realistic chance of deciding it didn’t work and choosing to try a different way. I don’t know if you ever noticed the “tuning up” guitar solo in the song “Christine Bactine” (maybe not because it’s such a tangle.)
It’s just a dumb idea I had. In Milk Milk Lemonade, a dumb idea committed to tape stayed in, because there just wasn’t the time or space to replace it.
And “riot” is certainly the correct word there: there were so many ideas, coming from all over the place, many of them quite crazy, most of which didn’t even end up happening but are hinted at. (“Book of Revelation” gives a flavor of it perhaps, but it could have gone even further.) The fact that it is as coherent as it is is more or less to be attributed solely to Kevin Army, who managed to take the riot and, despite long odds and rather straitened circumstances, condense it all into something that sounded like an album. I haven’t been shy about admitting that I am not fond of many of the sonic choices made in the process, but… well, you probably have no idea how close it all came to going off the deep end, and it’s good there was someone there with a coherent vision. That person certainly couldn’t have been me. I was a great big mess.
(And by the way, if your impression of this record is based solely, or even substantially, on the mp3s-ripped-from-CD Spotify version, you haven’t really heard it: the “real thing,” properly mastered, is gonna blow your mind.)
So yeah, Milk Milk Lemonade. 1992. I’d already wasted half my life-time or so, but there was, it turned out, more to come.
Just found the original lyrics of “Ready, Set, Go” and you’d all be totally shocked at what they were.
(Comments are mine unless otherwise noted — original post may be found here.)
— ‘It is so strange listening to your own albums. In some cases, so much time has passed that it might as well have been done by somebody else, which is the strangest bit.’
— “It’s pretty much one of those things that shouldn’t exist, but that fact that it does makes you go: woah, weird. What a fucked up album.”
— “MML is cool because it reaches for something and totally misses what it was reaching for but somehow manages by mistake to be something else that is even better (admittedly in a very fucked up way).” (From MML-era bass player Aaron.)
— “Larry took me aside one time and told me: Frank if you want to sell records, I have one word for you: plastics. Except he really said ‘pop punk.’ And I think what he meant by that was: songs that are really fast and go C-G-Am-F with an ‘oh’ on each chord change. And, I totally should have listened…”
— ‘MML was always my sentimental favorite out of all the MTX albums I didn’t play on (and I loved playing “Ready Set Go” live). I listened to my cassette copy incessantly and was convinced it was a brilliant concept album that chronicled one specific romantic relationship from beginning (“Book of Revelation”) to end (“See it Now”). I also thought the numerous references to guns were a symbolic theme. After I joined the band and shared these thoughts with you, I recall you telling me it wasn’t all quite as intentional as I’d imagined! Doesn’t make me appreciate it any less, though …’ (from Joel, MTX’s third bass player.)
—on “Master of the Situation”: “Also, the guitar solo on ‘Master of the Situation’ is pretty hilarious.”
Aaron: ‘“Master of the Situation” never got the treatment is deserved, due to youthful lack of competence. I bet we could do it better now.’
“Youthful incompetence is the two-word description of so much from that era…”
— on “Love American Style”:
Bob: “Although not from milk milk, i must also say that Love American Style is a very well written song. I hope the single did well.”
Me: “It didn’t.”
— on “Ready, Set, Go”:
Aaron: “I actually listened to “Ready, Set, Go” not too long ago, though, and that one actually came out pretty good! BTW, the reason I listened to it was b/c my son just got a leopard gecko, so I thought he should hear it.”
Mike: “not really related, but i will forever be thankful that MTX played “ready, set, go” at the RCKNDY in Seattle after i begged Frank and Jym for the 100th time… i didn’t think they would, and consequently when i heard the opening riff proceeded to get on stage, jump off, miss the crowd and tear the bejeezus out of my knee, bleeding everywhere… totally worth it.”
This is mainly notable because many, many years after this thread happened, I acquired video of this very show (which was the beginning of the Song for Odin series thing) and this particular incident appeared on it!
— on “See It Now”: “There are so many wonderful things about that album I don’t know where to start. But one thing comes to mind: I remember joining MTX and saying something like, “I will play in this band but only on one condition: if we play ‘See It Now’ live, just once.” We played it at the Great American Music Hall. (Once.) It was fantastic.” (From Gabe Meline, the fourth MTX bass player.)
— on songs, lyrics, journalism, etc:
‘When we first played “See It Now” (as an instrumental) at Gilman, Tim Yohannan said “Mott the Hoople has no place in punk.” (In fairness, though, I acknowledge that that was on Ramones cover night.)’
Bobby Manic: “hahahah!! why wasnt this in that bay area punk book or that lookout! book!! this is this shit that cracks me up!!”
Me: ‘No one ever asked! You know, it really is kind of interesting, that in all the interviews I’ve done about that “scene” or whatever, no one ever asked about the songs…
‘But with a lot of the journalistic treatments of the east bay punk scene that I’ve been interviewed for, the last thing they seem to be interested in is the music. It’s what drugs people were taking or who hit whom over the head with a guitar or who hated whom, etc. No interest in the songs.
‘I believe, thinking about it, that the lack of interest in the music per se reflects a genuine feeling that songs and songwriting are negligible features of “pop punk,” that what is truly important or interesting about it is not the content but rather the fact that certain bands happened to move a lot of units, and that that needs to be explained, preferably through reference to hair, clothes, eyeliner, etc. This is why, I guess, no journalists wrote about it at the time.
‘I’m not saying that journalists routinely do a great job analyzing content when it comes to pop music, but I do think it is a bit telling that it is so rarely even mentioned at all. And I’m also not claiming that MML represents some kind of paragon of great songwriting either — it’s all over the place, really. But if you’re going to talk about my band at all, it seems kind of crazy not to pay attention to the songs because, for good or ill, that really was the main point of interest. Instead it’s like “I notice you are wearing a leather jacket in this picture, like all your other pop punk buddies. To what degree would you say you were blindly aping the Ramones in those days?” I think people basically just felt “heard one you’ve heard ’em all” and never felt it necessary to listen.’