BEING FROM A CULTURAL sinkhole like Cleveland has its drawbacks. Ironically enough, it has pluses, too. When I talked to John Petkovic last fall (see “Poetic Justice,” Oct. 23, 2002), the Cobra Verde frontman wryly observed, “It’s one of those cities where there’s no road map to doing anything, and bands are just like, ‘Man, how would we even get a record out? What do we do?’ The difference between, say, Detroit and Cleveland is, you go to Detroit [and] there are tons of people in bands who hang out and keep in contact, whereas in Cleveland, the people are, I dunno, like cockroachesyou turn the light on and they just go running for the hole!”
But the burg has also bred its share of overachievers who strike back by, well, by overachievingthink of the class of ’77 punks Dead Boys and avant-weirdos Pere Ubu. Petkovic, too, is a longtime Clevo presence and a survivor. The flamboyant singer recently oversaw the release of the fourth Cobra Verde full-length, Easy Listening (MuscleTone), and, as he predicted last fall, it’s a brighter, catchier, and more immediate, less arty set. “More of a pop record [than 1999’s Nightlife],” noted Petkovic, “but kinda . . . you know when someone has a record where it kind of has a celebratory feel to it, but you don’t know what the hell’s the point of celebrating anything? That’s Easy Listening.”
Good point. If anything, the album’s both a celebration and indictment of all the silly, excessive, outrageous things that put the “roll” into rock, something made clear on opening cut “Riot Industry.” Placing the music biz into its postmillennial political/cultural contextnot a pretty sightthe tune’s all swaggering power chords (courtesy of guest J. Mascis, who’s currently touring with CV), big-beat drums, canned applause, and lyric nods to perfume and blow jobs, a descendent of such poison letters as “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Everybody’s a Star (Starmaker).” Other songs take a more personal tackthe Mott the Hoople/ Kinks-like “My Name Is Nobody” is about a cursed-from-birth loser, while glammy arena rocker “Modified Frankenstein” outlines “a walking, talking forgery” who’s “living on borrowed time” but are just as nihilistic and decadent. And speaking of indictments: The big-beat, Cheap Trick-ish “Whores,” for all its bravado and defiance (“Do you think we’re whores in the making/Do you think we’re whores for the faking/Well, I don’t care”), might as well be the Official Theme Song of the industry. A little bit nutty and definitely kinda sluttythat’s Cobra Verde. Long may they rant.
As Petkovic himself told me more recently, “I’m actually surprised by how good the response has been to the whole thing . . . and a little scared, too. We’ve always seen this band as something we really love to do, not as a way to make a living. We’ve never gotten bitter about all the things that seem to take everyone else down who tries to make a living getting some joy is high on the list of priorities, and I think that’s part of what people respond to with CV. We don’t want to lose that.”