PREVIEW: HIDDEN AGENDA, "Teddy Rabbits and Bunny Bears"

As punishment for various sins, I was forced to listen to the latest Hidden Agenda release, deceptively subtitled "Songs for Children". This little piece of false advertising is a vile, criminal act -- but then again so is the whole CD. All the familiar Hidden Agenda trademarks are there: the obsession with violent death, bad vocals, deliberate atonality, and perhaps the most unlistenable Steve Miller cover yet, but somehow they have managed to reach a new low (difficult for a band as awful as this one), in adding topics such as prison rape, school shootings, and drug abuse by toddlers to their narrow, but deeply offensive mal oeuvres.

Unlike previous releases, there is a certain stylistic consistency to this CD. And strangely enough, it's funky R&B of the George Clinton and Barry White variety. This comes as a severe system shock, following two CDs of garage band punk inspired by the Ramones, Sex Pistols and Seattle grunge. Fans of the older CDs (the assumption that the band has fans is mere speculation, most industry experts assume that the primary market for the band's music is graduate students in psychology researching various personality disorders) will still find some familiar sounds: "Corporate Anthem" and "England's Plastic Rose" are pure Sex Pistols, with "Rose" serving as an updated "God Save the Queen", this time slagging poor Princess Di. "This is What you Get Because You Suck" takes on school shootings and punishes the listener with some of the worst off key "harmony" vocals ever recorded.

The band members, whoever they are, show off their musically literate and sophisticated side as they crossfade Steve Miller with Philip Glass in "Eagle on the Beach", lay down some smooth jazz in "Magic Moments" and "We're All Gonna Die", attempt to rap on "Betty Ford Baby", re-create the Grateful Dead vibe on "Please Don't Lay me Down", and merge the sounds of Boston, Duran Duran and the Psychedelic Furs in "Superstar Teenage Slut". Don't let the candy coating fool you, though, lurking beneath the "pretty music" are the usual disturbing lyrics about revenge, suicide and mass murder. If anything, this band has become more dangerous as these polished "radio ready" tracks make it easier for them to sneak their subversive antisocial messages to an unsuspecting audience.

"Hellorgy of the Screaming Blood Freaks" features someone named "Davien" (who sounds as if he is demonically possessed), howling over a catchy dance track. In a similar vein, the band covers Donna Summer's "Bad Girls/Hot Stuff" medley, turning it into a death metal dirge. "You Stole My Squid", according to the CD liner notes, is nothing more than the drunken ramblings of a homeless person, supported by a guitar track that sounds suspciously like a lounge jazz favorite. Similarly, "They Didn't Have No Heads" is a rambling, surreal spoken word track of drug abuse and violence. Both of these tracks try to call up the "cool" of Tom Waits, but get lost along the way, ending up in the Arizona desert knocking on Captain Beefheart's trailer door asking for more peyote.

Coming from any other band, the song "A Gun Named Jesus" (with music like a tent revival rave-up and lyrics two steps past the Beatles 'Happiness is a Warm Gun') would be easily identified as a jab at religion and the NRA. When Rael sings "if you ain't been sinnin'/you better not start/or I'll get out Jesus/and let some light into your heart," he's probably serious. Dead serious. Inexplicably, this song shows up twice on the CD, with an instrumental version re-named "Cubic Zirconia Bullets of Pure Evil" and music that recalls Spinal Tap's "Jazz Odyssey", Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the excesses of 70's fusion at their worst.

At the start of this album, Hidden Agenda lays down their mission statement: "to make just one child cry". With their new release, they should have no problem making children, and adults, not only cry, but double over in agony and beg for death.

Rating: no stars

Your humble servant, Eduard DeColere

Sponsored by the Natasfosuna Corporation for the Morally Corrupt