How do you know that Family Force 5 are a funny bunch of fellows? Well, they name their album after everybody's favorite haircut, the Mullet, for one -- and if that didn't tip you off, there's also the fact that they have a drummer called "Crouton." But if you caught the Pulp Fiction reference in their band name ("Fox Force Five. Fox, as in we're a bunch of foxy chicks. Force, as in we're a force to be reckoned with. Five, as in there's one, two, three, four, five of us") and hoped that it meant that Family Force 5 might be clever will find Business Up Front/Party in the Back a disappointment. But that assumes that anyone had expectations for the first album by this band of "3 blood brothers and 2 friends." That's how they describe themselves on their MySpace page, which is also where they unleash their band manifesto: "they decided to make world history by playing a concoction of blended sounds!! Our music b uplifting and has a great message!" (sic). Well, they're being partially truthful. Family Force 5 do indeed play a concoction of blended sounds which, to the untrained ear, may sound like metallic riffs and rap rhythms learned from Limp Bizkit, but given a tongue-in-cheek makeover by piling up all sorts sounds from the '80s, from analog synths to the theme from Knight Rider to harmonies lifted from urban soul records to Beastie Boys samples to Speak & Spells, which are heard on about three tracks and name-dropped in the opener, "Cadillac Phunque." Their music is indeed uplifting, if your definition of uplifting is, to paraphrase Eddie Murphy, partying all the time -- and that pretty much happens to be their message, too, since every one of the 12 songs on Business Up Front is about having a good time (even the "X-Girlfriend" and bitchy "Drama Queen" seem to get smacked down; they won't get with the program and party).
So, Family Force 5 don't take things too seriously, which is fair enough -- rock & roll gets boring when bands get serious. But the great unspoken rule is that, with a few exceptions, rock & roll can be seriously irritating when it tries to be funny, which is a problem that plagues Family Force 5. And, man, do Family Force 5 try to be funny! All three singers -- Soul Glow Activatur, Crouton, and Fatty -- sing in goofy voices that occasionally come across like the privileged bullies mocking the needy. They ironically sing "you cannot stop the body rock/you cannot stop the funk." They steal lines, even phrasing, from the Beasties, they tell all the ugly people to "put ur hands down." The jokes fly so fast and furious, it gets a little tiring, but they do manage a few hooks that stick even if they grate ("Kountry Gentlemen" and "X-Girlfriend" chief among them). And they do have some musical acumen -- perhaps not enough to give this record either grit or kineticism, but enough to make it reasonable background noise at a party. But over the long haul, the retro-fantasia of Business Up Front sure gets tiring. The band is not interested in anything truly interesting -- to them, everything is either ironic or cheesy; everything is ready to be mocked, which may be fun on the Web or for a drunken night with friends, but it's a pain in the ass when it's preserved on record.