The Changcuters, that goofy bunch of boys from Bandung, have always been the epitome of commercial rock ’n’ roll cliches.
Their bandy-legged performance style goes nowhere near the fascinatingly hedonistic Led Zeppelin “Hammer of the Gods” approach, nor does it in any way match Keith Richards’ mysterious, injected-every-substance-known-to-mankind allure.
Instead, The Changcuters seem to feel that merely scratching the surface of the genre in the most unthreatening, G-rated manner is sufficient.
According to lead vocalist Mohammad Tria Ramadhani and friends, it seems, all you have to do to be rock ’n’ roll is memorize Mick Jagger-like struts and yelps (“awww,” “c’mon”), act out hair-metal poses and Scorpions-style pyramids onstage without a hint of irony, recycle already-recycled blues riffs (all the while draining any edginess they might have contained originally) and add a heavy touch of Indonesian comedy-disguised-as-character to your stage act.
The Changcuters are to rock ’n’ roll what Miley Cyrus’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is to the Pacific Northwest grunge scene: a smirking, unadulterated assault on the intellect, all for the sake of spinning the showbiz wheel.
Granted, the band themselves would have no qualms with such an assessment. After all, they’d say, what is the harm in downgrading music to mere mass-pleasing entertainment that any undemanding abang can bop his head and bare his yellow-toothed grin to?
It is from such a position of integrity that the band has had the smarts to gleefully plagiarize songs from clearly unknown acts like The Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Twist and Shout” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” respectively) without a second thought.
For these reasons and more, the band’s latest outing, “Tugas Akhir” (“Final Assignment”) is nothing but a waste of soundwaves. It’s a disheartening record, not because it says absolutely nothing at all, but because it proudly pronounces the unimportance of quality control at any level of entertainment output, as long as it is, well, allegedly entertaining.
Opener “Tari Getar” (“Shaking Dance”) could be an example of how a parody band would satirize the big band genre: basic swing beat and predictable horns run against trite summaries such as “Getarkan kepalamu/ getarkan bahumu/ getarkan pinggul indahmu” (“Shake your head/ shake your knees/ shake your beautiful hips.”) Sounding like a poor version of the classic Batman theme, the track will certainly please the band’s fans, who call themselves the Changcut Rangers, but is certainly an effort for the even remotely discerning listener to struggle through.
The single “Only Love” aims for a breezy nuance akin to some of the Beach Boys’ lighter fare, but hits a wall every time Tria’s breathy vocals desexualize the already limp melody. “Life is meaningless without love,” he sighs in Indonesian, before launching an example of the band’s much-loved “wit” with the line: “A luxurious house in an elite neighborhood/ a face with slanted eyes.” If the underlying ignorant generalization of that line doesn’t appease the band’s fan base, who knows what will.
“Filosofi Rock N Roll” (“Rock ’n’ Roll Philosophy”) apes the dirtier edge of rock, a la Little Richard, complete with distorted vocals draped in heavy reverb. There’s even talk of how “Life is as hard as rock/ roll as hard as you can/ that’s the rock ’n’ roll soul,” which should act as a much-needed wake-up call for those unrocked souls whose philosophies have been “Life is not hard at all and I don’t want to roll.”
The Changcuters’s shtick has always been a hollow approximation of their genre. Instead of diving in to capture the essence of rock ’n’ roll, to see why and how certain things sound intriguing, the band instead takes a karaoke approach in providing only a superficial emulation of what could otherwise be called their influences — hence the faux Jamaican accent and Mick Jagger moves. Songs are based on gimmicky concepts instead of ideas.
Another case in point: In “Surfing Di Arab” (“Surfing In Arabia”) the band unsurprisingly mixes surf-rock and Arabian music, with the result sounding like the confused lovechild of Dick Dale and Disney’s “Aladdin.” The joke’s in the title and it never goes beyond that.
“Tugas Akhir” — and by extent, the band’s career — is based on a tired old gag. This is music for people who balk at the concept of evolution and cry at a sinetron love scene. It’s not mere mimicry, but a celebrated affront toward cerebral depth of any kind.
What’s discouraging is that the band is hardly considered a “gag” band — the local scene is littered with those. The band is here to entertain, but that this album passes for musical leisure makes crystal clear just how badly the country’s music scene has fallen. An episode of “Beavis and Butthead” has more to say than another one of Tria and Co.’s nit-witted attempts at making music.