Twenty-five years after they first burst onto the burgeoning queercore scene, Pansy Division shows that age doesn’t stop a kick-ass rock and roll band with their new album Quite Contrary. Lead by Jon Ginoli on vocals and guitars and backed with Chris Freeman on bass, Joel Reader on guitar and Luis Illades on drums, the Pride flag waving kings of queer rock are back with a vengeance.
“I once wrote a song about being a slut/Nothing meant more to me than busting a nut/Now I’ve grown older and that life ain’t making the cut”, so sings frontman Jon Ginoli on the LP’s second track “Love Came Along” and that spirit soaks throughout the album. Jon and the boys seem to have abandoned their earlier rock and roll debauchery and searches for one night stand after another.
Now that they’re middle-aged punks, they want to find real love and not just another squirt with a stranger. Their standards for love have upped over the years; especially in cuts such as “Work On It, Babe”, where Jon demands a lover who takes the relationship seriously in the impossibly romantic neo-ballad “Kiss Me at Midnight (New Year’s Eve)”. The band has a history of releasing holiday-themed songs, going back to one of their earliest singles, which featured the celebratory sexual “Homo Christmas” as a B-side and the lonely hearts anthem “Valentine’s Day”. But with their New Year’s Eve song, they have found their love and it seems all they want is a slow dance and a kiss to welcome in the coming months.
It’s not just searching for Mr. Right and abandoning hedonism, the band still has plenty of venom in their amps (it is punk after all) directed at flaky lovers in tracks such as “You’re On the Phone”, a sardonic swipe at tech culture and the way people these days seem welded to their cell phones instead of embracing flesh to flesh love; “Halfway to Nowhere”, a biting burner directed at aging bar queens, “Don’t have much to speak of/Not even a car/I used to have to come and pick you up after closing time at the bar/I thought by now you would have enough of living life like Peter Pan/Because you’re halfway to nowhere/And you’re running out of time”, Jon and the boys show viciously that the party can’t last forever.
But the most vicious venom is saved for the dying opposition of the Religious Right with “Blame the Bible”. Our fight for equality and liberation has advanced by leaps and bounds since the band’s last album (2009’s That’s So Gay), but that doesn’t mean the fight is over and the band certainly knows that, spitting into the mic “He’s a politician with the love of the Lord/He’s getting kickbacks from his seat on the church board/He voted no of course on your civil rights/And if he gets elected he’d reverse that alright/Your basic needs are not his priority/He’s got his reputation to oversee/So if you’re gay or if you just don’t fit in/He’ll introduce you to the wages of sin”. “Blame the Bible” is the only overt political track on the record, but it’s a great reminder that Pansy Division are still willing to stand on the line with their roaring guitars.
Of course, the band is long known for their crass humor and there’s no shortage of that on the new album. The best humorous track is the sarcastic lament “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old”. Ginoli seems like he can deal with age creeping up on him, but not without laughing about how ordinary his life has become, his biggest thrill now being a hot cup of tea at bedtime instead of hot romp in the sack. Backed with a jaunty acoustic riff, at least Ginoli and the boys are laughing their way to the queer AARP.
Quite Contrary also features the first cover song on an album since the band reworked Jonathan Richman’s “Songs of Remembrance” on their sophomore album Deflowered. On this album, Pansy Division decides to rework the Pet Shop Boys electronic “It’s a Sin”. While the band keeps the PSB’s dark rhythms and vocals, they translate them through overdriven guitars and Luis Illades’s louder than thunder driving drums. As far as direct covers go, this is probably the most faithful rendition Pansy Division has done in their twenty-five years.
This album showcases a band that has matured not only musically, but with the times as well. Gone are the boner-swinging, angrily righteous middle fingers of their albums such as Undressed and Wish I’d Taken Pictures, but what has grown out of those records is a band that still knows how to rock n roll their way into contemporary queer culture. With a queer pop culture that seems to worship youth and shallow beauty, it’s refreshing to hear a mature album that can still rock harder than just about anyone else.