Banana Yellow – Blow Up Osama Bin Laden

Banana Yellow
Blow Up Osama Bin Laden

People’s responses to the recent attacks have varied greatly, and in an attempt to document the public’s feeling, folklorists took to the streets to capture immediate reactions. Another gauge that I think would be helpful is to look to the nation’s creative artists and how they represent their often complex reactions to the events of September 11th. Part of this will be the insightful and probably brutal responses of New York art-rockers like Sonic Youth, but another side of this coin is the less sophisticated “low-brow” music that is often created with little or no prior reflection. So, in thinking about the patriotic novelty items that pop up in times of war – such as Bin Laden toilet paper (“wipe that smile off his face”), pinatas, etc. – I began to search for the musical equivalent of this propaganda. Indeed, there is a long and embarrassing history of wartime songs parodying entire races of people, but with the recent proliferation of independent music and Internet publishing, the average Joe can now produce his own.

It first became noticeable during the Gulf War, with Hussein eventually elevated to the status of a pop-culture icon. The musical responses spanned many genres, and we find both subtle low-tech techno instrumentals that suggest little outside of their title (“The Ballad and Disembowelment of Saddam Hussein”), as well as vitriolic speed-metal tirades that are nearly impossible to see as tongue-in-cheek (“Speak English or Die and Fuck the Middle East”). As songs pop up concerning our present war, we are likely to hear something in between these two extremes.

“Blow Up Osama Bin Laden” is politically ambiguous. The repeated lyrics of “Blow Stuff Up,” sung by a computerized voice repeated over and over, seem like they are supposed to be funny in their absurdity, but when the music pans so that the lyrics “Blow up the Taliban” are in your left ear and “Blow up Osama Bin Laden” is in your right and the tempo increases in intensity, the message seems humorless. Banana Yellow has released a lot of topical explorations in sound; its a shame that they made the decision to become known for this one particular song, but the band seems to feel that they are responding to the overwhelming desires of their audience. Phasing synths gently hum while an insistent percussion track drives the song forward. This is all superfluous though as soon as the first monotone voice chimes in to recite the title. The music is incidental at best.