CD Review of Hyena Safari by Messer Chups

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Hyena Safari
starstarno starno starno star Label: AeroCCCP Recordings
Released: 2007
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There has never been much Russian rock and roll that has made it to U.S. shores. By now, you’re probably familiar with how the Russians were formerly oppressed from outsider rock, and so the likes of Elton John and Billy Joel went over there to rock the Reds, as it were. Then the Cold War pooped out and…well, we still haven’t heard a whole lot of Russian rock and roll over here.

That’s all coming to a violent end, however, what with Messer Chups’ second CD on the way. Here we have a group of Russian rock and roll cosmonauts obsessed with old horror flicks, surf guitar, and big band lounge music. This would be okay, in a novelty sort of way, if these dudes hadn’t already been beaten several times over by Man or Astro-man? Yep, those guys have been around a long time and have released numerous discs of their own brand of surf rock infused with cheeseball b-movie samples and other kitschy ephemera.

So what’s this all mean for Messer Chups? Well, if you’re not familiar with Man or Astro-man? then you could dive right in here and let the twangy surf rock guitar wash over your ears in complete “original” fashion. The only problem is (and Man or Astro-man? suffers the same affliction), 18 tracks of this stuff gets old pretty fast, no matter how many goofy things you throw into the mix. There’s only so much twang and boom-BAP BAP BAP-boom-boom-BAP BAP BAP drumming that can remain relatively interesting. Of course, people who are really freaky about surf rock will disagree here, but there’s a reason that whole scene died out years ago.

These guys also like skulls a whole lot. There are five music videos included on the disc, and all of them feature montages and/or old horror movie clips filed with skulls and skeletons, as well as the group’s mascot, a Bettie Page-looking chick who dances around in her bikini, or eats carrots, or whatever else. The videos are pretty much like the songs. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. Not to say the band members can’t play this kind of music well. They can and do, even. But again it all comes down to novelty status and how far along you can drag something before it loses its appeal.

You would be forgiven for expecting more from songs with titles like “Popcorno,” “Skeleton Topless,” “Fender Satanic Limited Edition,” and “Coffin Dolls.” You’d even be right to expect something quite groovy from said songs. But alas, this is how instrumental music can often go. Get a groovy title, and zero in the actual execution. But hey, there’s bound to be an audience for this retro-weirdness somewhere out there. Who’d have thought that the Russian invasion would be all about surf guitar?

Ah well, you can at least always ponder the inside sleeve design while listening to the music. The design features a black and white illustration of the Bettie Page lookalike devolving into a hyena. OK, maybe you won’t get much out of that at all. At any rate, Hyena Safari treads where other Russians dare not dance. Will this mean a whole new imported craze for the United States? It’s doubtful, but then again “Macarena” was a hit over here, so stranger things have definitely happened.

~Jason Thompson