Gift Guide: Mojo Nixon
The Mojo Manifesto (Manifesto Records)
By Doug Freeman, Fri., Dec. 4, 2020
A 10-CD box set of nearly all of Mojo Nixon's studio albums proves a helluva lot of Mojo to consume, but the material ties so determinedly to specific times and cultural references that it rewards as a literal Manifesto of lo-fi cowpunk anarchy by one Neill Kirby McMillan Jr.
The ethos laid out with 1985's debut Mojo Nixon & Skip Roper remains remarkably consistent: anti-corporate, anti-political, pro-irreverence. He's the hellraising, raspy-throated Jonathan Richman, which registers immediately on notorious LP opener "Jesus at McDonald's." The sound is so essentially college radio that it evidences why he found cult success – and why he never quite elevated beyond that.
The following year's Frenzy lashes out more directly at Reagan's consumer-driven America. "Stuffin' Martha's Muffin," the raunchy hit on MTV's Martha Quinn, got the attention, but the raw-bopping and Roper-washboarded "I Hate Banks" remains relevant, and the Steve Wynn-guested "Feeling Existential" still strikes with wit. Packaged with the EP Get Out of My Way!, "Burn Down the Malls" howls cathartic.
Every album tentpoles a Nixon "hit" – "Elvis Is Everywhere" on 1987's Bo-Day-Shus!!! and "Don Henley Must Die" from Otis in 1990 – but the deep cuts distinguish Manifesto, like the swaying "Positively Bodies Parking Lot" and bass-thumping, anthemic Otis closer "Gonna Be a New World." That album and its predecessor, 1989's Jim Dickenson-produced Root Hog or Die, hit the high point for Nixon. The latter reached the limits of his mainstream appeal when MTV banned the Winona Ryder-starring, lambasting video "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child," but Dickenson's Southern flair adds a new sound, especially on the raucous six-minute rant version of "This Land Is Your Land" and grooving "Burn Your Money." Otis likewise shakes, rattles, and rolls with full-band backing from fellow SoCal root punks John Doe and Country Dick Montana.
The industry ditched Nixon in the Nineties, reportedly for "Bring Me the Head of David Geffen" (finally released on 1997's Gadzooks!!!), but the purgatory worked creatively, teaming him with the Toadliquors for fantastically hilarious Horny Holidays! and 1995's surprisingly tight Whereabouts Unknown, balancing "My Free Will Just Ain't Willin'" with "Tie My Pecker to My Leg."