The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once claimed that “The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction…The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: that is the hyperreal…which is entirely in simulation.”
With that in mind, consider the following thoughts on the several lyrical embarrassments that comprise Is This Hyperreal?, the new album by Atari Teenage Riot. First, let’s look at “Black Flags”. Beginning, as songs sometimes annoyingly do, with the speaking of the band’s own name–“Atari Teenage Riot. Anonymous teenage riot. Are you ready to testify?”–the track continues, over loud, but not very interesting, beats and unpleasantly distorted instruments, with phrases like “The government dislikes you” and “What they call law is used to restrain us ordinary citizens who are opposed to this.”
It’s all a bit juvenile…and not all that hard to compare, given the subject matter, with veteran shouting rebel rockers Rage Against the Machine, whose own “Testify” knocks this out of the park. Still further, “Codebreaker” asserts that “We don’t ask for permissions because permissions are not granted,” without ever explaining what permissions the band want (if it is the band who’s singing, here, and not an implied “Us”), and who exactly isn’t granting them. “Re-arrange Your Synapse” has a nice little synth part, which, unfortunately, backgrounds more ridiculous lyrics: “Look at what society has become: any one can get tortured, any one can disappear,” it says.
Really? Anybody? Isn’t that something that’s so sweeping that you need to back it up somehow? Is This Hyperreal? definitely wants to position itself as both a protest album, and an exercise in existential questioning. With statements like these, though, and with the lack of thought that seems to have gone into the dull, thumping music (its style is so over-used that sheer volume can’t even work viscerally) there’s no way that Atari Teenage Riot has achieved either.
The title track completes the embarrassment, throwing out such questions as whether “counter culture” did or did not become a “self obsessed aesthetic vacuum at some point, before we got here,” and showing that, if such statements are going to be made in music, they’ve got to be a little more precise than this. “Is this hyperreal?” Nic Endo, not surprisingly, asks the listener. And the answer, once again, is no. It’s kitsch. Almost every song here lacks sophistication, trawling again and again through heavy beats, and distorted, chunky chords. As if to compound a sense of comedy, the response to her question is an aggressively shouted “Mutation!”, which doesn’t seem to answer the question and doesn’t do much justice to the nuances of Baudrillard and his cohorts at all.
Of course, music doesn’t need to be sophisticated in a “philosophical” sense. Often, music is great because it doesn’t have to take that tone. But Atari Teenage Riot seems to want to make listeners feel like they’re engaging with these questions in just that way. And they don’t. Make no mistake: Is This Hyperreal? is an incredibly disappointing album.