EVERY POP movement worth its salt needs a bunch of pranksters. The hippies had Neil Innes’s satirists the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, punk boasted the Dickies, and nu metal has Alien Ant Farm, a bunch of former air guitarists with weirdo hair.
Late last year, the Californian racketeers’ absurdly disrespectful version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ committed more damage to the King of Pop’s eggshell image than a decade of plastic surgery. Probably conceived in a bored moment in the studio, it captured the public mood; while Jackson’s much trumpeted comeback album fell way below artistic and commercial expectations, the Ants’ ‘Smooth Criminal’ hung mockingly around the charts for weeks.
Their Anthology album has since sold 180,000 copies in the UK, although the band haven’t quite managed to fill Manchester Academy. “Guys, thanks for coming, we expected 15 or 20,” chirps gonzo frontman Dryden Mitchell, perhaps glimpsing the band’s future career.
‘Smooth Criminal’ aside, Alien Ant Farm simply don’t have any songs. At best they could be a youth-club heavy metal act attempting to be a boy band; at worst, they peddle the kind of slick, soulless soft-rock that usually comes accompanied by white nylon jackets and poodle hair. At one point a grizzly punk at the back actually covers up his ears. In fact, the audience is more entertaining than the dorkish band. It spans the metal generations, consisting of tiny terrors and much older, tattooed reprobates — the parents.
Head dork Mitchell’s American shopping mall patter has failed to survive the Atlantic crossing. “Guys, thanks for your respect,” he simpers repeatedly. He seems utterly bewildered when his praise for London is met by a chorus of Mancunian boos. Less forgivably, he then declares that the band backdrop looks “too gay”.
As “respect” evaporates by the riff, the band almost redeem themselves playing ‘Smooth Criminal’. Introduced with an atmosphere-piercing “Do you guys like child molestation?”, it is full of new, outrageously slanderous Jacko accusations. For four precious minutes, pop’s cosy sheen is punctured by an act of genuine subversion. However, Mitchell’s anti-gay remarks give an unfortunate edge to a joke that doesn’t seem so funny anymore.
1 out of 5 stars.
© Dave Simpson, The Guardian, 4 February 2002