Various Artists

The Human Breakdown of Absurdity

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One of the longest-running fringe con games the recording industry has to offer has been those microscopic labels who run ads in assorted pulp and "men's" magazines imploring you to "set your poems to music." After the poor sap at home mails off their set of lyrics or poem to the company address, they'll always receive a glowing letter back, telling them this is prime material, a literal hit record in the making. All that's needed to get that poem worked up into a real song by our crack writing staff and get it actually pressed up on a record is a little seed money to get everything rolling. The con -- of course -- is that the seed money comes straight out of the poor starstruck sap's wallet or purse, and the results -- usually only pressed to a short run of a hundred copies or even less -- are musically in every way bizarre in the extreme. As lyrics get bent around pre-recorded backing tracks or hack musicians lay in wait for vocalists to get their mouths wrapped around impossibly timed couplets, these are the guilty pleasures of this particular genre. The 'Motown' of these seedy little shakedown outfits was Rod Rogers' (Rodd Keith) M.S.R. Records, based in Hollywood, California. NRBQ drummer and weird music collector Tom Ardolino released a vinyl-only compilation of M.S.R. sides entitled The Beat of the Traps in the mid-'90s; Vol. 2 was released on compact disc utilizing "75% of the contents of Vol.1!" Subtitled MSR Madness, Vol. 3, this volume regurgitates four more selections from the vinyl-only debut volume, but the other 25 gems are new to this compilation. As with the previous volumes, the songs with the most outrageous titles are sometimes the most tepid in performance (Rod Rogers' "I Can't Decide [If It's the Beatles, Elvis or Rick]," Gene Marshall's "I Lost My Girl to an Argentinian Cowboy"), and sometimes the trend reverses itself, as on Mary Kaye and Sammy Marshall's wild and noisy "Twist and Turn," Rodd Keith's "The Mini Skirt Fad," and Norm Burn's interpretation of the title track. Because of the sheer uniqueness of song-poem music, the genre exists solely in a world of its own, alternately functioning as sincerely misguided songwriting spun to its lowest declination or the history of show business played out in a bizarro world alternate universe. Either way, once you're hooked, there's no going back, and those who can hear and enjoy the warped message of "Shut Up and Quit Talking" or "Ecstasy to Frenzy" are music listeners a breed apart.

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