The cover art of Madhouse, by central Vermont's Pulse Prophets, shows the Earth in a state of disarray, with missiles, fires, mushroom clouds and a giant Band-Aid holding the planet together. Its flipside depicts Saddam, Osama and Dubya as the speak-, hear- and see-no-evil monkeys. So what should we do when the inmates are running the asylum? Hit the dance floor, apparently.
Madhouse opens with the bouncy "Midas Touch." Bolstered by fantastic guitar from Rudy Dauth, the song has a clean, Steely Dan funkiness. "Everything I touch turns to music, everything I hold turns to gold from the soul," sings vocalist-songwriter Elijah Krantz. Well, maybe not everything; Madhouse has a couple of clunkers. Still, most of it is pretty damn good.
Krantz's singing is earnest, if not exactly soulful. He employs different styles as the album progresses, complementing the music more often than not.
"Funk Hop" serves up a rugged party groove, with vocals that call to mind the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis. "I don't want to sound like I might be perverted, but you can come dressed like a Catholic school girl, mini-skirted," Krantz sings in a line that would make the more famous front man proud.
"Disco Party" is a piece of fluff, with almost throwaway lyrics. But it does feature a delicious keyboard solo that references the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. This bit of musical mischief even makes Krantz crack up mid-tune.
But not everything is a laughing matter. As evidenced by their choice in album art, Pulse Prophets have strong opinions about the world and are not too shy to voice 'em.
Current U.S. military engagements provide plenty of lyrical fodder. According to "Tell the People," war can only be understood by those directly involved. Krantz makes a persuasive argument, but unfortunately his message is stronger than the music.
More successful are "What's a Man?" and "Bless the World," which contain strong melodies and powerful prose. Krantz channels hip-pop sensation Michael Franti on each, describing a world on the precipice of disaster.
"Who would Jesus bomb, Bush or Saddam?" Krantz inquires on the album's title track. "Bless the World" suggests the answer is neither. Here, the singer implores God to bestow grace upon friends and enemies alike.
"People want to party, but we've got to heal," states the electro-dub number "What's a Man?" Madhouse does a fine job of exploring both options.