Philadelphia’s The Dead Milkmen may be one of the more cultish punk bands from the 80s, but it’s arguable their fanbase is one of the most passionate and rabid. The band broke up in 1995, but with bassist’s Dave Blood’s unfortunate death in 2004, the remaining original members—Rodney Anonymous, Joe Jack Talcum, and Dean Clean—rallied together and reformed, along with new bassist Dan Stevens.
The Milkmen had last released an album, The King In Yellow, in 2011, but their newest creation, Pretty Music For Pretty People, exhibits both a stunning return to form and a revived freshness, making it one of their best albums since 1990’s Metaphysical Graffiti. Many of the songs here come from a much heralded 7” series, including “Dark Clouds Gather Over Middlemarch” and “The Great Boston Molasses Flood.” One shouldn’t be too worried for their inclusion here as a sign of scrambling for enough material to fit an album, precisely because an album always seemed like the natural conclusion for the single series.
There has always existed a thread of conspiratorial paranoia running through the Milkmen’s manifesto, but it grew with increasing strength as they headed towards the 90s and with the band’s reformation since 2008, it seems as if they’ve picked it up from right where they left it. But although the Milken may be at their most paranoid, they’re also at their smartest. Delivering a trademarked brand of straight-faced Swiftian satire not as shocking as The Country Teasers but no less razor sharp, The Milkmen remark brilliantly on issues from religious fanaticism (the hilariously titled “Big Words Make The Baby Jesus Cry”) to gun control (“Welcome To Undertown”), always taking the voice of conservative extremism while not-so-secretly standing on the side of wooly liberalism.
Elsewhere, the styles and genres cover range wildly, making Pretty Music For Pretty People simultaneously their least sonically punk album and one of their most, ironically, pretty. The content is still just as cynical and misanthropically perverse, but it also contains some of their best production ever. They experiment more with synthesizers and post punk stylings, often sounding like some of the very bands they previously mocked on “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance To Anything).”
A recurring problem with classic punk bands reforming is the improbability of staying relevant, but The Dead Milkmen have amazingly outlasted all of that sounding just as biting on songs such as “Make It Witchy,” a song mocking Witch House. They still sound as fresh even when Rodney Anonymous goes out of his way to give a history lesson on “Anthropology Days.” With The Buzzcocks and other bands reforming and consistently releasing new material, The Milkmen manage to be one of the few that sound like they still have something to say, making Pretty Music For Pretty People one of the best punk albums of 2014.