PROTOMARTYR’s Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art) isn’t an opaque record; singer Joe Casey is forward with his hatred (for the other, the self and the whatever else) even when he tries to cover it with obscuring references.
“Maidenhead” may seem like a winking nod to a literary influence, a trick many bands utilize to appear cleverer than they probably are, but the song is more blunt in its self-assessment than most listeners are probably accustomed, utilizing its reference to approximate an emotional state in a way those clever bands never approach – instead of simply using the reference to appear well-read, Casey is able to draw a bleak parallel between himself and character. We can tell he’s finally come to the realization that nothing can ever get better, if not through his words directly then by how dead inside he already sounds as he slurs them out.
And that’s just the first song.
To say that Under Color of Official Right is a record you’ll struggle through is an understatement. There isn’t a lot here to connect with emotionally, but that’s exactly what Protomartyr is after. In an era of emotionally-detached narcissists more concerned with their social media profiles than how their actions directly influence those around them, a record like Under Color of Official Right feels justified. This isn’t the cold narcissism of Bret Easton Ellis, this is the desperate plight of Jim Thompson; Casey and co. aren’t writing about the idle rich turning to crime out of apathy, they’re chronicling the failures and missteps of everyday losers who don’t have other options.
Never is this more apparent than on “Scum, Rise!” which acts as a sardonic call-to-arms for these freaks. Instead of looking for a silver lining in their fuck-ups and perpetuating the myth of the “Beautiful Loser,” Casey looks at degradation and shame as inherent to failure, and ultimately as a form of empowerment – if there’s nowhere lower you can go, there’s nothing left to hurt you. By songs end, murmurs of “There’s nothing you can do,” a self-mantra of begrudging acceptance, erupt into yelps of “Scum, rise!”, as if Casey has become a surrogate Charlie Manson for his own damaged family.
The album’s center-piece, “Tarpeian Rock,” may be the band’s most caustic statement. The referenced landmark, a cliff utilized by ancient Romans to execute enemies of the states, morphs from its literal historical import into a metaphorical soap box for Casey as he launches into a bile-soaked rant against his imagined conspirators. No one is spared, everything and everyone from Internet personas to rich crusties sees his scorn, as he imagines their heads popping from the force of gravity hurling them to the ground below him.
Under the Color of Official Right is the kind of breathless psychosis rarely unleashed in public settings, even in the most guarded of circles. Most civilized people are too worried about their image to become this unhinged. We may harbor thoughts that near the edge, we may even peer across into the dark forest that lies just over its border, but few ever cross that line. Protomartyr seemingly passed that point sometime long ago, so their concern isn’t in what’s beyond; they’re now the madmen hellbent on dragging curious sight-seers across that border into the mouth of madness.
Genre/Tags: Post-Punk, Garage Rock
Under Color of Official Right LP: Tracklist:
2.) Ain’t So Simple
3.) Want Remover
4.) Trust Me Billy
6.) What the Wall Said
7.) Tarpeian Rock
8.) Bad Advice
9.) Son of Dis
10.) Scum, Rise!
11.) I Stare at Floors
12.) Come & See
14.) I’ll Take That Applause