We gave it a C-
Family and Friends don’t always understand, but some albums you have to keep — if only to prove they actually exist. Yes, there truly are records called Elvis Songs Sung in Latin and Background Music for Home Movies. Both of them proudly reside in my collection, where they were joined three years ago by the collected works of the Insane Clown Posse. Imagine two goofballs from Detroit, in circus-jester makeup, rapping inane songs about cannibalism and genitalia. Sure, the music was awful, the rapping cloddish, the macabre elements amateurish. But how could you not want dumb-fun records like those in your home?
Apparently, not everyone feels the same way. On June 24, Disney-owned Hollywood Records shipped 100,000 copies of the latest Insane Clown Posse carnival of crudeness, The Great Milenko. That same day, Disney execs ordered an immediate recall, citing the album’s graphic, ”inappropriate” lyrics, which had somehow slipped past Mickey’s notoriously fastidious quality-control department. Exactly what tipped Disney higher-ups is unclear: Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth (who oversees Hollywood Records) viewed a nearly completed, supposedly violence-free music video for ”Halls of Illusions” (a song in which the ICP confront a spouse abuser and shove a broken bottle in his ear) a few days before the record’s release, around the same time an anonymous employee sent a letter of complaint to company executives. But despite the hasty recall, the album sold enough copies — 18,000 — to enter the Billboard pop album chart at No. 63, the ICP’s strongest showing yet. Currently, Disney and the band are negotiating a settlement, with other labels, suddenly eager to sign such a hot property, waiting in the wings.
Disney’s action led to numerous conspiracy theories, which sprouted up as fast as devil’s horns. Because the recall occurred just one week after Southern Baptists announced a boycott of Disney products — a reaction to the company’s gay-friendly policies — it’s easy to assume the company was bowing to pressure. (Is it a coincidence that one song on The Great Milenko, ”Hellalujah,” targets money-grubbing preachers?) Whatever the impetus, the incident has turned ICP into unlikely First Amendment champions and their album into an instant collector’s item. The Great Milenko joins 2 Live Crew’s drooling As Nasty As They Wanna Be and the self-titled debuts of the Geto Boys (rejected by Geffen in 1990) and Body Count (from which ”Cop Killer” was exorcised) as victims of the sorriest music-biz legacy of the ’90s: the banning, altering, or censoring of records. The Great Milenko marks the first time a record company has pulled the plug on an entire album as it was on its way to stores.
Alas, The Great Milenko shares another ingredient with the slacker Miami-bass rap of 2 Live Crew and the grueling bombast of Body Count: It isn’t all that great. The album opens with guest narrator Alice Cooper announcing the arrival of ”the Necromaster…a horrid reflection of your very own deep desires,” who will lead us to some sort of apocalypse. From there, the Posse — Motor City geeks Joe Bruce (Violent J) and Joey Ulster (Shaggy 2 Dope) — rap about oral sex (”House of Horrors”), annoying traffic jams (”How Many Times?”), and other less-than-original topics. One of their skits — involving a black couple at a party — adds to the impression that ICP (who are white) are belittling hip-hop as much as they’re exploiting it. It can be said that they’re equal-opportunity offenders, however; ”Piggy Pie” literally bashes incest-prone rednecks. And, in a hint of progress, they’re now using the term bitch to describe women and men.
As they did on their previous, independently released albums, Violent J and Shaggy rap with scrawny, whiny voices, like the Beastie Boys with nose pins. Milenko is better produced than the duo’s earlier output (Slash grinds out metal chords on ”Halls of Illusions”), and ”Pass Me By” is a genuinely melodic song. But with its puerile humor and intentionally ugly metal-rap tunes, the album feels oddly dated. Remember the already passe horror-core genre? Nineties nostalgia, anyone?
As many ICP advocates have already stated, the joke may be on Disney and any prospective boycotters. Certainly, the Insane Clown Posse are now more famous than ever; even a company spokesman admits that initial sales expectations for the album weren’t very high. Let’s just hope the last laugh isn’t on us. That such a recall can happen — and that The Great Milenko is now nearly impossible to find — is spookier than the ICP’s own cackling, clowns-on-crack delivery, and a lot less funny. C-