By Gianmaria Franchini
Caeser Pink and the Imperial Orgy’s newest album, “Gospel Hymns for Agnostics and Atheists,” hints at something sacrilegious. The Brooklyn-based seven-piece, headed by self-professed “tantric guru of pagan pan-sexuality” Caeser Pink, has been dubbed “followers of Satan” by the Congress of Christian Youth and had its music banned from airplay by college radio stations across the nation. But, to tell the truth, outside of “Gospel Hymns’” oxymoronic title, there is little to find in the album that is half as offensive—or transgressive—as it purports to be.
John Whiteman, from Imperial Orgy’s label Chief Logan Recordings, has sent out generic requests for press coverage that will make any reviewer hesitate: “Although many reviewers hate the CD with an inexplicable passion, other [sic] believe that it is actually a culturally relevant statement from an important new artist.” Certainly, the college airwave excommunication has stirred up some controversy, and that might be the band’s greatest strength. The music lacks anything compelling, and after several listens, one is left spiraling downwards from a halfhearted attempt at shock value.
The four-track, 18-minute album begins with “The Amazing Tenacity of Job and his Brethren” — an innocuous song with a loaded name. It’s a standard gospel-rock affair with a sardonic “Praise the Lord” refrain thrown in for good measure. There could be something insolent about the verse “I don’t know no equations/Or if Eddy Vedder’s queer,” but ultimately it comes off as enigmatic rambling.
The idea here must be irony, but that highly American weapon of satire falls flat with “Gospel”: ironic distance is hardly the foundation on which to build a solid album.
“So It Is,” the album’s third track, uses organs and subtle syncopated time signatures to mimic reggae. The catchy intro riff, melody and arrangements aren’t bad, and along with a graceful chorus, the number ends up being almost pleasant. On a more profound level, however, the song seems to be mocking the appropriated Zionism from which reggae draws its roots. The chorus “Let the headlines feed the hungry/Let the sinless pray for redemption” plays on the essentially religious and redemptive themes of classic reggae and its kinship to Rastafarianism. Combine that with “Jesus dies on his cross tonight/In the Bush the Zebra falls” and we have a confusing mix of religious imagery.
It’s difficult to tell if Caeser and his crew are embracing reggae form as a sort of pagan alternative, or if they’re just fans of putting together a dubbed-out tune.
The controversy over Imperial Orgy isn’t limited to the music. Caeser and his band have an expansive website dedicated to everything from social activism to filmmaking to band T-shirts and erotic trinkets. A message warns visitors: “The Imperial Orgy: An open celebration of life, love, sexuality, and rebellion. We respectfully request that people who do not have an open mind do not enter.” The apologetic caveat is a symptom of the self-importance that afflicts the band’s music. Some of Caeser’s art is worth a look (the derivative photo triptych “Three Graces” comes to mind), but after taking in the scattered collection of black-and-white nudes and manic video-montages, one ends up thinking: “What, exactly, is the big deal?”
“Gospel Hymn’s” final track, “Happy Endings,” labors to evince Imperial Orgy’s sentimental side. The narrative of Wal-Mart employee Lisa (who “never wore a prom dress”) and the Nova-driving steel mill worker Jimmy, unfolds over tender chord progressions. Lyrically, the song is nothing to scoff at. Its Romantic posturing, however, is in discord with the band’s offensive ambitions. Imperial Orgy may have done well to stick with this type of aesthetic, but for now, as Caeser appropriately croons over the chorus, “These are our happy endings/It’s the best we can do.”