When people imagine music by an acknowledged gay male, they usually expect it to be filled with stage theatricality and a tone of angst that comes from the travails of being young and gay. Songs such as the Bronski Beat’s “Need a Man Blues” instantly come to mind when pondering the identity of the openly gay man in music. With its lonely vocals, shattering falsetto vocal range, and darkest blue melody, “Need a Man Blues” captures the gloom of wanting someone, anyone; but at the same time, it brings back a cliched theatricality that people often use to stereotype gay males. And while the Bronski Beat was a good band, rarely did they acknowledge what Pansy Division so frequently relished: sex is fun.
Tracks such as “Fem in a Black Leather Jacket,” “Anthem,” “He Whipped My Ass in Tennis (Then I F*cked His Ass in Bed)” and “Homo Christmas” are infused with a gleeful joy in their acknowledged homosexuality, as well as the ability to be humorously outspoken. The lyrics often bring a chuckle, in songs such as the country-tinged (which might also be funny simply because of its country flavor) “Tennis” with its realist line: “I couldn’t wait to feast my eyes on his meaty hairy thighs.”
And when Pansy Division isn’t being brutally realistic as well as cunningly funny, they speak frankly about relationship issues which speak, well, to any person, gay or straight: “The Best Revenge” truly does remind the listener that the best way to spite a person who’s loved you and left you is to be happy without them. Also a part of the less explicit side of Pansy Division is the fragile (well, for Pansy Division it’s fragile) “Sweet Insecurity,” which deals with those timid moments that often mark the beginning of a new relationship.
Unfortunately, despite their historical place as being one of the first (and still one of the few) “out” rock bands, Pansy Division are really not a necessary listen for all music fans. They’re highly recommended for anyone who loves punk rock, or just wants to actually hear some joyful gay music once in a while, but this album is sometimes just as tedious as the term “career retrospective” implies. After an hour-plus of music, listening to the Pansies’ vocals can become as annoying an experience as being trapped in a tiny closet with that other Alternative Tentacles superstar, Nardwuar. And as is the problem with a lot of punk music, too many high-motion, high-impact songs can make the listener feel as if they were on a herky-jerky musical rollercoaster where the only way to save themselves is to turn off the stereo and put their head between their knees.
That said, The Essential Pansy Division is a good place for new listeners to begin; but for the faithful fans (aside from the attraction of the DVD, with its interesting visual take on Pansy Division’s career), they might prefer to just listen to their old records.
Reviewed by Megan Giddings