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, lets look at “Black Flags”. Beginning, as songs sometimes annoyingly do, with the speaking of the band’s own nameAtari 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.
Its 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 dont ask for permissions because permissions are not granted, without ever explaining what permissions the band want (if it is the band whos singing, here, and not an implied Us), and who exactly isnt 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? Isnt that something thats 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 cant even work viscerally) theres 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, theyve 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. Its 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 doesnt seem to answer the question and doesnt do much justice to the nuances of Baudrillard and his cohorts at all.
Of course, music doesnt need to be sophisticated in a philosophical sense. Often, music is great because it doesnt have to take that tone. But Atari Teenage Riot seems to want to make listeners feel like theyre engaging with these questions in just that way. And they dont. Make no mistake: Is This Hyperreal? is an incredibly disappointing album.