By: Derek Spencer
Turtle Power is a ska band. They sound like a ska band. It isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a good think. It’s a ska thing. That’s about as vivid a description as you’re going to get. Let’s postulate about lyrics.
Sung by the female vocalist on the first track: “You’re girlfriend sucks you’re girlfriend sucks/ I never really liked her I just thought that I should take one for the team/ *something something* my penis envy.“ I hope that readers share my confusion here. The entire song implies the speaker is a girl, speaking to a guy (whom she loves) about his current girlfriend. If this is in fact the case, what did the speaker “take for the team”? “Taking one for the team” is often used in a sexual sense, as in, having sex with one you would not like to have sex with such that your friend can have sex, presumably sex that they want with someone they want. Did the speaker take the girlfriend for the team? Is this song about group sex? Did the relationship being critiqued by the speaker begin with an uncomfortable menage a trois in which the speaker reluctantly engaged sexually with another woman so that her friend could date said woman? Does the girlfriend, then, suck in the colloquial sense or in the literal sense? Where does penis envy come into play? Did the sucking inspire penis envy, or did the penis envy cause the threesome in the first place? Who does the speaker really lust after, and what exactly is her tactic for getting what she wants? Is this a song of manipulation or infatuation or both?
On the second track, we hear Male Vocalist sing: “Reaching out for something else, put my brain back on the shelf, I don’t even care what time it is.” Here, I think we have fewer questions and more answers. The speaker is reaching for something else. Else, as derived from what object? His brain of course. He needs a new brain. His is being put back on the shelf, i.e. it’s returning from whence it came i.e. darkness, emptiness, tiny cells, the womb etc (this is not the first time that Oedipal and uterine fantasies come into play on this record). So if the brain is in the womb, and the speaker is currently reaching for a new one (he does not yet have it), what is something he might not care about? Let me rephrase, what might one not care about if one’s brain were missing? That’s right; time! The speaker cares not for time because he has no brain. Now, this is not simply the logical conclusion of his conundrum, but also an epistemological assertion: acquisition of knowledge, according to Turtle Power, is only attainable a posteriori, or after perception. In this way, Turtle Power demonstrates their empiricist foundations, grouping their philosophical framework in with the likes of Locke, Hume, and Dewey.
The third track, Amputee, seems to tells the story about someone who mutilated themselves for love, only to be abandoned by the object of their affection (It’s hard to tell precisely what is being said because Turtle Power made the artistic choice to apply radio-fuzz effects and situate the vocals lower than the bass in the mix on this song). If we assume that my interpretation is within reason, where does this song situate itself on the album? We are confronted on one side with pro-puritanical tales of sex (i.e. sex as the cause of bad things, sex as the denier of love, etc) and on the other with a solid foundation in the western empiricist tradition. The story of the amputee, then, is the linking allegory. He has literally cut his body for love, symbolizing the toll that sex takes on your body. After all, in this christian-puritan framework, love is never free, but only offered in exchange for purity. If we take his own dismemberment to be both a representation of sexual debauchery and a nod toward the idea that all things are founded in observable reality, then the response of his lover, her choice to leave the man “in his hospital bed”, imbues the female character with a grace and aptitude for correct moral judgement. She has left him for he is impure. She did what the speaker in the first song ought to have done: reject the hedonistic lifestyle and scorn those with the physical scars of sex displayed clearly on their bodies.
“Making lines with your feet as you drag yourself back to the wall, turn on your heel as you face your fear of an empty room.” We are now in a room, very far away from the hospital bed. It is empty. It is a place of fear, a place with only one face in it and the face is scared. We are meant to be scared. The upstrokes and major7s of the accompanying ska turn from beachy and peachy to demonic and ceaseless. Ska is horror. Ska is undying. Ska clutches you with it’s fragile hands and pulls you into a world of unending skank dancing and perpetual 90’s aestheticism. You can’t escape the room. There are lines on the floor from feet before you, scratching to get out, scratching to get in. You start to skank uncontrollably. This is the end, and it will last forever.
“Loneliness has changed your voice” How much time has passed in the room? Days? Years? There is no sun. There is no clock. You don’t even care about time, remember? Perception is the basis for all rational thought, according to you, and yet you have no way to perceive anything that isn’t piercing, infinite ska riffs. You mind has learned that this is a constant. It’s as if the gods are punishing you for your belief in the material world and it’s ability to provide reasonable answers to philosophical questions. And then, there is a man in the center of the room. His back is turned away from you. You run around, skanking violently with your brittle bones and unpadded joints, taking in his face. It’s your father. You yell out to him! You ask him to help you! But your voice is unrecognizable, changed by loneliness.
Standout Track: Kandy