Label: Seeland / Mordam
Genre: Performance Art
Rating: ***• (3 1/2 out of 4)
Availability: Widely Available / eMusic Download
I don’t know what’s more disturbing. The content of Dispepsi—one of Negativland’s most famous albums—or the fact that I’d listen to it more than once.
Negativland’s music falls into that bizarre category between genres that can best be described as “performance art.” It’s too chaotic for pop, too melodic for absolute avant-garde, and not really anywhere near rock or electronica. Dispepsi created waves when it was first released over a much-publicized lawsuit from the Pepsi corporation. As a result of that lawsuit, Negativland was forced to release the album with cover art that did not feature the word “Pepsi” anywhere on it. To get around this, the original packaging featured the word “Dispepsi” (a play off of “Pepsi,” “Dispepsia,” and “Dis Pepsi”) scrambled and exploded so that the letters appeared at random around a blue and red yin-yang. The liner notes contained a toll-free number that you could call to learn what the title was when it had been unscrambled.
Listening to Dispepsi for the first time, it becomes obvious why Pepsi didn’t want their name featured on it. But once you’ve started listening, you’ll hear the name so much that you’ll get sick of it. And that’s kind of the point.
Negativland could never be accused of being pro-corporation, and Dispepsi is a bitingly satiric look at the lengths to which Pepsi goes to sell its products and the eventual uselessness of said products. When you think about it, Pepsi is a worthless product. A sugared soda that has no nutritional value but that is sold in such high quantities.
From the first track, “The Smile You Can’t Hide,” you know the way the album is going as Negativland samples a naive Pepsi executive expressing his hope that the album would be a “positive reflection” of the company’s marketing position. But Negativland shows quickly enough what it sees as the Pepsi business plan – mind control, ignorance, attack advertising, and the promotion of conspicuous consumption.
For such a biting album, it’s amazing how easy Dispepsi is to listen to. It’s political satire you can sing along with. The sound is both chaotic and melodic in that bizarre novelty-album sense that catches you and pulls you in. Suddenly, you’re singing “And my mind just turns to Pepsi and I think of it a lot….” (“Drink it Up”) It’s clever, musical, and horrifying all at the same time. A touch of paranoia (Was New Coke a marketing ploy?) and a touch of media analysis goes a long way—an entire album of it can make you so fundamentally disturbed that you see advertising in the brushtrokes of the paint on your wall.
That’s what makes Dispepsi so, so, so great. It lulls you in with its accessibility, and you slowly get more and more uncomfortable as its message gets clearer and clearer.