You Talkin' to Me?: HEMPilation

There's plenty of evidence that a whole bunch of so-called adults have no intention of growing up -- no matter how old they get. Witness full-grown women wearing baby barrettes, the teeniest of wee backpacks and anything that involves Hello Kitty. Meanwhile, their male counterparts do things like race each other in miniature cars made out of plywood and recite all the verses to their favorite episode of Schoolhouse Rock while eating massive bowls of Captain Crunch. Forget agonizing over getting older: an entire generation yearns to return to the halcyon days when their only responsibility was getting dressed all by themselves. Which leads us, naturally enough, to Saturday Morning Cartoon's Greatest Hits (MCA), as interpreted by a passel of Alternative Nation Types. Thankfully, the album's execution exceeds the treacly concept, enhancing still-familiar cartoon anthems and reviving them from the pop-culture graveyard where they've moldered for decades. Best of the bunch is the "Underdog" theme song as passed through the twisted prism that is the Butthole Surfers, who bend the tune into a surreal, vaguely threatening romp. The Surfers pummel the lyrics, speeding them up subtly with each verse while guitars screech and blare, building into a blast of sheer weirdness. It's exhausting, exhilarating, and even a bit disturbing -- as any classic cartoon should be when viewed in retrospect. The Ramones contribute a faithful rendition of the "Spiderman" theme song (sped up, of course, in inimitable onetwothreefour style), with the unforgettable lyrics, "Is he good?/ Listen bub, he's got radioactive blood." And the Reverend Horton Heat's demented take on the tag-team "Johnny Quest/Stop That Pigeon" is a hilarious example of what happens when breakneck speed meets the Reverend's propensity toward pandemonium. More disposable are predictable offerings from Tanya Donnelly and Juliana Hatfield ("Josie and the Pussycats"), Matthew Sweet's "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" and Frente's saccharine "Let the Sun Shine In" (a tune "recorded" by the Flinstones' Pebbles and Bam Bam). But on the whole -- especially for those legions determined to muck about in childhood's effluvia until well into their latter years --Saturday Morning Cartoon's Greatest Hits hits the inconsequential, yet still resonant chord it set out to twang. One way to pretend that you'll never get old is to get so stoned you forget your chronological age. Which is not to say that there's nothing to be said in defense of marijuana: Smoking it mellows out the mind and soothes the psyche, using it appeases symptoms of diseases like AIDS and glaucoma, and the plant itself can be used to make a bonanza of products. That said, there's nothing quite so boring as watching other people smoke pot. The conversation tends to drag, people laugh at jokes that aren't funny and words like "whoa" and "dude" pop up with disturbing frequency. Unless you're prepared to get majorly stoned first, there's not much to recommend HEMPilation: Freedom is NORML's 17 tracks (Capricorn). While each one celebrates the ganja, the smoke, the blunt -- with a hazy hit parade of stoner anthems resurrected by a relatively new crop of musicians -- it's clear that the players should have waited to light up until they were well out of the studio. (I mean, like, dude, even if those cock-rock guitar licks sounded awesome at the time, once the high wears off, you'll realize it's all just wanking off. Sure, it feels real good, but afterwards your hand is all sticky.) The Black Crowes' version of Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" -- with that bitchin' "Everybody must get stoned" chorus -- takes you right back to the horrifying image of the high school dance, complete with a mental image of hair flips and low-slung guitar posturing. Better is Blues Traveller's reworking of Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher," with John Popper's harmonica ably taking the place of horns. Outside of a few players -- Cypress Hill, phoning in a version of "I Wanna Get High" straight off one of their Lollapalooza gigs, Ziggy Marley with one of the few originals here, "In the Flow," and 311's version of "Who's Got the Herb" (penned by the Bad Brains' HR) with its noodly rasta groove wrapped around the stony refrain of "skunk, indica, sativa, ariba" -- the bulk of the tracks here belong to the loser side of the pothead aesthetic. David Peel and the 360s' "I Like Marijuana" features an all-time idiotic chorus, "Marijuana marijuana, hey hey get high"; Metalheads Sacred Reich sleepwalk through Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf" and Ian Moore's version of Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer" is an overwrought mess, redeemed only by the Muddy Waters sample at beginning and end. Still, small touches like that save the benefit album from being total red-eyed drivel. And hey, proceeds from the album do go to NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws), which is a good thing. Too bad that's more than can be said for the album as a whole. It turns out that sheer force of will can't keep you young after all. Getting older never sounded so good.

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