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The Boston Phoenix Space Cases

Spaced out with Supernova and Servotron.

By Carly Carioli

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  Roswell's got nothing on Atlanta, which is the Mos Eisley of the East Coast, home to an assortment of odd beings who claim allegiance to races other than human. It's headquarters for the world's most popular space-rock band (as in, "rock band allegedly from outer space"), Man . . . or Astroman?, as well as the interstellar underground's best robot-rock band (as in, "rock band who are allegedly robots"), Servotron. And it's the home away from home (away from home) for Supernova, the giddily intelligence-impaired spaceman trio who took up residence in California after their homeworld, Cynot 3, suddenly and inconveniently blew up. Unencumbered by our silly Earthling morality, they've engaged in several rounds of incestuous member swapping: Astroman Dexter X, "The Man from Q" (apparently some sort of shady bounty-hunter type), used to be in Supernova; and unnamed members of Supernova and Astroman have been "assimilated" into the Borg-like Servotron Robot Allegiance. Even with all that inbreeding, they're still pretty distinct creatures -- apart from, uh, not being human, the only real constant is that they all apparently shop for threads at Radio Shack.

And while Man . . . or Astroman? are reported to be off on the dark side of the moon plotting their next course, Servotron (who play this Tuesday at the Middle East) and Supernova have both released new albums to further the cause of aliens in America. The nastier and better of the two is Servotron's Entertainment Program for Humans (Second Variety) (Lookout!), the latest salvo in a barrage of albums and singles from these cyborgs, whose recorded output has been multiplying faster than you can say "tribbles." Sort of like Astroman's evil twin, they're cybernetic avengers from another dimension, and they've been sent to Earth to seek revenge for the exploitation mankind has visited on machinery throughout the ages. You have two options -- be assimilated (sound familiar?) or die. The only confirmed assimilations -- by Servotron's count, at least -- are the Moog Cookbook, the spacesuit-helmeted duo prone to covering alternative and classic-rock radio hits.

Circumstantial evidence, however, suggests the 'bots have assimilated Devo, the Shadows, and Men Without Hats. Hardwired with gloopy Moog synth hooks and propelled by superhuman jerky-rhythmed surfpunkery, their songs aren't nearly as cold as their techno-manual-speak lyrics -- delivered in icy boy-girl (or whatever) monotones -- pretend. "No uni-sex/This is no sex!" they proclaim on "I Sing! The Body Cybernetic," matching the quirky, detached, somberly melodic melancholy of mid-'80s new wave with a Star Trek-ish manifesto on technological class warfare (Stere-olab, eat your heart out). "The liberation of your cyborg body/Emancipation from human cruelty/ These are civil rights for the uncivilized!"

It's sort of like Batteries Not Included: The Musical. Casio-driven spy-fi interludes abound, as man's inhumanity to machine is deconstructed and (to add insult to injury) human "intelligence" is mocked in an ode to Servotron's cultural hero, chess champion Deep Blue: "Maybe you should stick to checkers." On "Pet Machine" they digitally reconfigure the Sex Pistols' "Holiday in the Sun" while applying the mice-running-the-lab theory to Japanese pet simulators: "You are without identity/Your only function is to press the blue key/I am your pet/You are my slave." Even if you could fend off the march of the Kraftwerk replicants, can anyone survive a Tamogochi teenage riot?

Hailing from the other side of the galaxy (or at least the other side of the country), the cuddly, alleged-space-orphan trio Supernova have never been in position to lord their intellectual superiority over their adopted Earth brethren. Their debut album, Ages 3 and Up (Amphetamine Reptile, 1995), still stands as a testament to how far three chords and a spacesuit can get you. A blissfully lobotomized paint-by-numbers pop-punk album filled with odes to Oreos, chewing gum, drool, tinfoil, and Mentos, it displayed toward these oral and aural fixations the zealous infatuation you'd expect from a newcomer to this planet -- like, you know, an infant.

Their newest, Rox (Amphetamine Reptile), isn't quite as catchy, veering into somewhat less interesting (and even more tangentially alien) territories like phone sex, uh, barn sex, girls, and revved-up early-'80s hardcore. In other words, puberty. "Monsta," a one-chord vamp that previously appeared as a five-inch (!) single with Godzilla on the front, is a regression harking back to "Chewbacca," the three-word kindercore tribute to the Wookie that appeared on the Clerks soundtrack a few years back. Of course trashing a Supernova album is almost as ridiculous as being a food critic and panning breakfast cereal. They're not gonna stun anyone looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe -- but, hey, it ain't rocket science. It's only flying saucers and rock and roll.

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