Graded on a Curve:
The Frogs,
It’s Only Right and Natural

Simply put, The Frogs’ It’s Only Right and Natural is one of the most deliriously bent records to have emerged from the 1980s underground scene. The handiwork of brothers Jimmy and (the late) Dennis Flemion and originally issued on the Homestead label, the album’s 14 songs wedded over-the-top homoerotic subject matter to a twisted, druggy folk-rock approach, and like the best of satire could inspire miscomprehension and even downright hostility. But the true root of the LP, which is being reissued for the first time in stereo August 16 by The End of All Music, is a stealthily sturdy batch of tunes. Not everyone’s gonna like it, but that’s exactly how it is with many great, singular things.

There are parts of It’s Only Right and Natural, (okay, most if it), that in 2019, can be accessed as “problematic.” The record, which plunges deep into gay stereotypes in a way that has always connected to me (and many others) as lampooning the fevered imaginations of the sexually intolerant, lacks the “here’s a lesson” didacticism of so much lesser satire and instead embraces the juvenile, which is why it’s sometimes assessed as a mere joke.

Obviously, it’s that decided lack of maturity (i.e. tastelessness) that will make this alb a take it or leave it proposition. But really, it’s always been that way with The Frogs, an act who not only persevered but became a subject of Alt-rock celebrity championing in the ’90s: they were on Cobain’s top 50 albums list, they were loved by Billy Corgan, “I Don’t Care If U Disrespect Me (Just So You Love Me)” was sampled by Beck, and they secured fans in Pearl Jam, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, filmmaker Harmony Korine, and the Blake Babies, who named their “Rosy Jack World” EP after a song from this LP.

I bought my CD copy before all this, based on a terse description that was making the rounds that The Frogs were a “gay supremacist duo.” Coupled with the disc’s cover, a certain will to provoke became apparent. I had to hear it. Back then, I was surely hit by that juvenile aspect, but along the way, The Frogs tangled with those stereotypes in a manner that was so ridiculous, perhaps attaining an apex (or nadir) with “Baby Greaser George,” that it became impossible to take the sentiments seriously (the music is no joke, though).

Exactly how to take it was a little perplexing, but over time it definitely struck me as satire, though how deliberate a satire is debatable. Whole big parts of this can kinda register like a concept album blending the storyline of William Friedkin’s film Cruising and the psych-folk of Tyrannosaurus Rex (the duo of Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took). The difference (and it’s a big dif) is that stone-faced Cruising begged the viewer to take it as gospel, while It’s Only Right and Natural luxuriated in its ludicrousness.

As times have changed, there has been some questioning of intentions regarding this album, but in the era of its release, the only people I was aware of who were bothered about it (sometimes to the point of anger) were “Christian” bigots, mainly because they were too thick to comprehend that their reaction was the punch line to an extended joke.

But It’s Only Right and Natural has always been more than its subject matter. Playing it repeatedly in an attempt to get a handle on it, the sheer quality of the songwriting sinks in. Opener “I’ve Got Drugs (Out of the Mist” puts things into fully zonked motion, the aura persisting until we hear about a “fucking priest with a yeast infection.”

I can still recall that as a real “what the fuck” moment. But it’s “I Don’t Care If U Disrespect Me (Just So You Love Me)” that really kicks the disc into high gear conceptually, and it’s one of the few spots, along with “Someone’s Pinning Me to the Ground” deeper in the sequence, that feels like the work of a (highly dusted) band.

“Hot Cock Annie” is a prime slice of oddball psych-folk, while “These Are the Finest Queen Boys (I’ve Ever Seen)” marries a trad Brit folk structure to lyrics that bring to mind the gay porn sequel to Last Tango in Paris that Bernardo Bertolucci never made (let’s just say there’s mention of butter). It’s followed by “Rosy Jack World,” a boisterous strummer with some sweet bowed-string action (one of the LP’s strongest attributes) that amplifies the Flemion’s musicianship, though don’t go thinking this record is “tight.”

As said, the atmosphere is bent, but not broken. To the contrary, it’s pretty together, and in its intended stereo form the album has never sounded better. With its bowed string ache, “Baby Greaser George” sounds more than ever like a basic gag on Astral Weeks as the strings carry over into the multifaceted drugginess of “(Thank God I Died In) The Car Crash.”

In “Gather ‘Round for Savior #2” and “Richard Dick Richards,” The Frogs give strummy and gentler folk forms a poke with a stick to see if there’s any life in ‘em. Guess what happens. “Men (Come On Men)” brings in a chintzy keyboard to non-detrimental effect, while “Dykes Are We” introduces a xylophone (or something like it) as it adjusts the orientation late in the runtime.

It’s also the spot where the Flemion’s audibly crack each other up, laughter that supports the assertion that this living room-recorded album was made more for self-satisfaction than wide release. But certain LPs are just inevitable. The set concludes with the downright pretty (and mildly Kevin Ayers-like) “Homos.”

The relative lack of questionable taste in “Homos,” along with its pop bona fides, ushers in one last welcome twist and illuminates how The Frogs have always been a difficult act to synopsize. The same is true of It’s Only Right and Natural, which happily endures as much more than a document of another era’s pushed boundaries.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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