Send in the Clowns

The Pocket Clowns, Stanton's seminal skalypso-with-a-touch-of-emo-and-so-much-more band, are famous for draping their microphones with those "Sanitized for Your Protection" paper bands that go around motel toilets. Some think it's a contrived effort to be "quirky." Others think it goes back to front woman Ginger L. Gladness' much-publicized battle with obsessive-compulsive cleanliness. ("I'm a dope-ass clean freak," she's been known to say in interviews, while fingering a can of Lysol.) Still others think there must be some kind of acoustic reason for the paper bands.

Whatever the case, the unstoppable five-piece prove again on their latest satisfying skalypso-emo-rock-punk-metal-groovecore-grindcore-folk-polka-roots-hip-hop excursion, titled Smells Like Pocket Clowns (not to be confused with their now-legendary demo Smell the Pocket Clowns), the follow-up to October 1999's wildly successful Pocket Clowns Comin' Atcha!, which followed up August 1999's Something Clowny This Way Comes, June 1999's You Put the "Ow" in Clown and May 1999's Thanks for the Rubber Shoes, that there ain't nothin' sanitized about these clowns.

Whereas Pocket Clowns Comin' Atcha! (referred to as PCCA by true Clown-heads) served to announce to the world that the Pocket Clowns were coming at them, Smells Like Pocket Clowns (SLPC) is a much more personal exercise. It seems that this time, the world came at the Pocket Clowns. ("Where can I sink my teeth into a nice piece of peace?" a brokenhearted Stanky Edwards asks plaintively at the end of "Talk of the Clown.") SLPC is mournful at times, filled with dirgy yet funky laments. Gone is the menacing bravado, swagger and in-yo'-face innocence that marked PCCA, and in its place is the cynical yet not unrealistic viewpoint of a young band who shot to the top so fast that they're still sitting there listening to themselves shoot to the top. Too bad the speed of sound is slower than the speed of the Pocket Clowns. Ginger L. and enigmatic counterpart Stanky explore this intriguing phenomenon in an explosive track, which is really a call-and-response, called "NASA Callin'."

"Answer the phone, bitch!" screams Stanky.

"I can't hear you YET, bitch!" Ginger L. screams back, the tension mounting.

"Say what? Answer the phone, bitch!" Stanky screams again.

"Huh? Still can't hear you, bitch!" Ginger L. snaps back over a thick sonic stew of heavenly digitized pummeling up-tempo industrial island funkiness courtesy of keyboardist and German transplant Hewitt Wierwen, turntable arsonist Y.N. Howe, and new drummer Y-Nut Ware, a.k.a. the Mad Y-Nut, who replaced original drummer Tabitha Sanchez, who suffered severe memory loss and sustained multiple injuries after a head-on collision with, ironically, a Volkswagen stuffed with clowns.

"Brutha against brutha! Clown against clown!" Ginger L. hisses on "Clown vs. Clown," the proceeds of which are helping to pay for Sanchez's mounting medical bills and, eventually, toward education in schools to prevent accidents involving clown-stuffed Volkswagens. ("Fahrvergngen is the cruelest word," Ginger L. weeps poignantly on "The Cruelest Word," which was recorded with an orchestra.)

The biggest change this time around, though, is the Clowns' newfound acceptance of Garden Grove, a town they hated with the hate of 10,000 hate-filled clowns. On "Who You Callin' Garbage Grove?" Stanky raps convincingly, "Stanton in the house; ain't goin' nowhere. Garden Grove ain't either, I guess."

Critics speculate the new attitude stems from the calming influence of yoga, which three of the Clowns began practicing after a trip to India with Alanis Morissette. Others think it's the relations with Alanis Morissette that three of the members began having after the trip to India. Others chalk it up to feng shui. Others cite aromatherapy. Still others don't care.

But the Clowns have already come up with an answer for the ones that don't care. Witness the intro to SLPC's barnburning title track: "OC, are you ready? Turn your frown upside-down! OC, get ready to smell like clowns!"


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