Big Lizard In My Backyard

The Dead Milkmen

Fever / Restless Records, 1985

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Could punk have a sense of humor?

Jello Biafra tried to inject some by covering "Viva Las Vegas" with the Dead Kennedys. But The Dead Milkmen were, to my knowledge, the most successful in their efforts, though they never rose above the status of a novelty band. Too bad - though I always wished they would have turned up their instruments, the musicianship was, at times, quite good, and the lyrics could intermix comedy and social commentary well. The vocals... well, two out of three ain't bad.

Their 1985 debut, Big Lizard In My Backyard, put Rodney Anonymous and crew on the map with "Bitchin' Camaro," a song which, with the opening commentary removed, is probably barely a minute long. In fact, many of the songs on this one - I count 21 on the tape, which has two bonus tracks - are over before you know it. And while there are some great moments on this one, it truly is a hit-or-miss compilation.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Anonymous's vocals occasionally sound like Johnny Rotten would have if he came from California. The guitar work of Joe Jack Talcum (well, at least you can laugh at the pseudonymns) is often hidden in the mix - bad move, while the rhythm section of drummer Dean Clean and bassist Dave Blood is surprisingly good. The biggest negative - the poor production, which not only hides the guitar, but often the vocals as well.

The highlights on this one are the moments that the band is at its sharpest in both comedy and commentary. "V.F.W." is a song which will never make it onto radio, but shows how good the band could sound with Talcum's guitar in the forefront. The lyrics are also powerful, slamming the poor condition of the society we live in. The country overtones on "Rastabilly" have to be half-ass, or it wouldn't be so funny. And, as politically incorrect as it is, "Takin' Retards To The Zoo" bores its way into your brain, and you'll find yourself singing it out loud.

And many of the other tracks aren't bad, they're just nothing special. If you based your opinion solely on the opening track "Tiny Town," you probably wouldn't be looking forward to listening to the rest of Big Lizard In My Backyard. The problem is that many of the songs on this one fall into this category - they're okay for a few listens, but quickly forgettable.

Of the tracks that are complete failures, "Spit Sink" and "Right Wing Pigeons" are tracks you should quickly fast forward through. The slower tempo of "Spit Sink" just doesn't seem to blend with the style of the Dead Milkmen, while "Right Wing Pigeon" is a poor attempt at dance music. (They'd eventually get it right with "Instant Club Hit".)

I can't speak for the CD - I picked up my copy of this album back in the late '80s - but the tape contains two bonus songs. Of these, "Gorrilla Girl" is okay, but not incredible. The other, "Tugena," demonstrates the instrumental prowess of the Dead Milkmen, but is a little too weird.

The Dead Milkmen are, without a doubt, an acquired taste that you may not like on first listen. But give Big Lizard In My Backyard a chance, and it will grow on you. Had it been given a little more TLC in the production and mixing departments, it may have been a debut legend in the punk world.

Rating: B-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fever / Restless Records, and is used for informational purposes only.