The hardest working little man in show-business is back. Inventor of the Continuous Ca$h Flow System™, Anti-Christ, appliqué kitten fan, Chicago’s finest Juedo-Christian edutainer, Bobby Conn has, since his first album in 1997, taken more sobriquets for a walk than Tom Cruise has made turgid sequels to Mission Impossible. In a career with ludicrous highlights such as the original video for “Never Get Ahead” (eye-shadowed Bobby in preposterous crimson shell suit falling all over the floor before gawky and bemused teens on Chic-A-Go-GO) and his eye-wateringly evil cover of “Without You” (Anton LaVey plays the hits of Badfinger!), life is never dull with Bobby around. Oh no.And so, Mr Conn’s sixth album proper, Macaroni, arrives clad in a typically demented juxtaposition of imagery, a cartoon friendly piece of the aforementioned durum wheat pasta on the front, and a violent montage of weaponry, burning vehicles and revolutionaries (real or wannabe) on the back (both by Mr Conn himself). Perhaps obscured by the absurd and hagiographical press releases of his early years, Mr Conn actually boasts a creditable track record of outspoken political opposition to the years of Dubya in the White House, and to the rampant killer-capitalism strangling the arts of America. Particularly Tom Cruise.
So, it’s perhaps no surprise that Macaroni is actually a deeply political record reflecting the many strands of the peculiar Conn-esque take on these preoccupations. “Govt” reflects on criticism of the US administration in power with a deft magnifying glance at right wing conspiracies, Hellfire missiles, Nobel prizes and Predator drones. It’s funky too! “So don’t confuse us with the facts,” practically a bumper sticker slogan for the Tea Party. “Face Blind,” sung in a Bee Gees falsetto that will hopefully speed Robin Gibb back to full health, could be no more touching as a love song about washing maggots down a drain.
“Greed” could only possibly be improved by having Sir Fred Goodwin – sorry Mr Fred Goodwin – doing a guest spot on bass. “We got that Monsanto touch, I put my finger in your DNA, it feels good but it’s never enough.” When Monsanto were trying their damnedest to force genetically-modified crops into the UK during the late 1990s and playing down the dangers of gene transfer from their transgenic crops, it’s funny, they always forgot to mention that they were also the company that manufactured Agent Orange, the defoliant sprayed all over Vietnam that left generations of Vietnamese children deformed and stillborn. Maybe it won’t bring Monsanto’s boardroom to their knees, but it’s good of Bobby Conn not to let that one lie. “Underground Vktm” is the less-pleasant twin brother of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” hanging around on a bar stool after one Pabst too many and shouting at passers-by using their iPhones. Jolly good job too. Fuck ‘em.“The Truth” is straight from the Fela Kuti songbook, a shuffling Afrobeat number, an imprecation to dance in the face of Armageddon as Josh Johannpeter does a very, very creditable Tony Allen in the background. “Can’t Stop the War” would, in other hands, sound like a tediously worthy protest against fighting, but Conn’s preposterously fun disco heaviosity renders it as critical of useless tree-hugging liberals as of the US military itself. Always nice to hear “Sur le pont d’Avignon” given an outing too. The album closes with the melancholy “Walker’s Game,” Monica BouBou (AKA Mrs Conn) coating the intro in some lovely violin before main body of the song fuses the epic outbursts and harpsichord-like tinklings in a manner reminiscent of Ennio Morricone in a dour, but more danceable, mood.
Like its five predecessors, Macaroni is an odd album. Conn has always fused his strange ear for melodies with a distinctly personal agenda. But I don’t mean that as a bad thing. Quite the opposite. One has to listen to the album over and over to lock into its particular frequencies, and, once you do, it comes alive and hits the pleasure centres full on.
I once stood at the front of the Notting Hill Arts Club and Bobby Conn approached me with a huge, outsize furry bear-paw glove, running it over the side of my face very gently in a circular movement. When I moved my own hand towards it, he glared at me and said sternly “I DO THE TOUCHING. You do the feeling.”
A man of his word.