CZECHIA: Objects of Desire and Other Complications - Monkey Business
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
An absolutely bonkers album that beautifully sums up a nation
The Czech Republic has a very special place in my heart. Having arrived to live in Prague for nearly a year back in 2017, I arrived with fairly little knowledge about the country which today exists in place of the former Kingdom of Bohemia. As such, I made it my mission to learn about the nation in terms of its history, its culture and its people as best as I could. Whilst the majority of my companions were members of the wider global community, hailing from a myriad of nations from Turkey to Uruguay, I made a conscious effort to try to not stay entirely in the comfort of the expat community and instead to try to meet local people and break down the barriers that many British tourists had inadvertently created for me due to their behaviour on raucous stag dos (that said, I must admit that my accent and penchant for Czech beer understandably tarred me with the same brush as my compatriots). Whilst finding Czech natives to pick the brains of, at first, was not so simple, I found two rather easy techniques of meeting people through whom I could learn about the country from the perspective of those with first-hand experience growing up there – dating and teaching.
“It shouldn’t sound work and yet somehow it does. It mirrors the dysfunctional functionality of the Czech nation that I fell in love with it.”
These two methods were beneficial for a wide array of reasons, but they did indeed help me exercise and strengthen my muscles of inquisitiveness. I found that because both experiences introduced me to a wide-cross section of Czech society there were some varying conclusions to be drawn in many areas, particularly when the differences between the perspective of young women in their 20s and my students who were sometimes male and/or much older. Yet, one massive surprise, for a country so rich in so many aspects of culture, was that there was a general acceptance that overall contemporary Czech music was not very good. When one thinks about it properly this broad consensus should come as no surprise when one takes into account that Czech people had their liberties robbed from them for decades both under Nazi rule as well as under communism. Both the younger and older generation tend to look in a westerly direction towards popstars in the United States and the United Kingdom, rather than harvesting their own unique musical identity for fear that it will perhaps resemble that of their recent history. This makes a great deal of sense when there is a conscious societal effort to disassociate themselves from their former communist past. Whilst some nations that were previously under communist rule today have what seem like a quasi-communist era musical identity, the Czech Republic seem to have tried to detach as much as possible from being perceived as a former satellite state of the Soviet Union and instead have focused on importing the Western music trends, with most radio sets blaring out music in English.
Whilst this is all totally understandable, this did leave me feeling slightly frustrated as I wanted to hear what ‘authentic’ Czech music sounded like. In terms of traditional music, of course, there was polka, but I am reliably informed that this genre is far less popular than outsiders might be led to believe. In terms of popularity at the time I was living in Prague, there was only one song by a Czech artist that was being played everywhere. Eurovision entrant Mikoláš Josef's Lie To Me was all the rage; I remember a huge hoo-ha being made amongst local teenage girls when he played a spontaneous rendition of the song on Prague’s famous Wenceslas Square. Though immensely popular at the time, this Western pop knock-off, lacked a certain sense of ‘Czechness’. Even recently deceased crooner Karel Gott, who I was of course aware of the presence of due to his immense popularity amongst people of a certain age, is not representative of the Czech spirit that I was fortunate enough to get to know. One might then beg the question, “how could the country’s most important singer not be ‘Czech enough’ for you?”
I would say although Gott, and even Josef in his Western mimicry style, obviously represent a portion of Czech society, the post-communist Czech attitude that I observed and engaged with the most was built on a principle of ‘not fitting into a box’. In other words, the Czech outlook on life seems to be very much ‘I don’t give a fuck about what you do, so long as you don’t care about what I do’; wholly understandable after decades of repressed freedoms. The Czech people seem to have a broadly open-minded mentality, even if it is masked with a Central European sternness at times. For me, the Czech attitude is punk, one that says ‘fuck the system’ and this ties into the fact that during the communist era many people would find devious ways to temporarily escape the nation in order to go to rock concerts in nearby Hungary. The Rolling Stones have an incredible affinity with the Czech capital, playing to more than 100,000 people after the Velvet Revolution; legend even has it that Mick Jagger still plays for the glorious lights of Prague Castle that makes the centrepiece of the city shine beautifully at night. The very fact that the Czech people have such a historic connection to the Stones demonstrate their desire to celebrate eccentricties and stick two fingers up at the establishment. In fact, last year when I asked one of my students to recommend me the best Czech music, all the records he sent me were rap albums with ‘lyrical-depth’; explaining that the only good music worth listening to in the Czech language is one that criticise and satirise the status-quo.
In the Czech capital, which has a vibrant music scene, so many of the performances from local artists are avant-garde. The weirdness of the wide-array of acts I got to see perform in different bars and venues was part of the charm of the city. In a bid to avoid cognitive bias, due to my already engagement with the nation that in many ways has stolen my heart, I asked Joel to do his research and recommend me something from there. Nervous, yet curious as to what album Joel would deem to be ‘Czech’ from his investigation, I could not have been more pleased when Joel recommended me what I would call, without doubt, the most representative album of this unconventional nation. Monkey Business’ fifth album Objects of Desire and Other Complications is in some senses totally mad. It shouldn’t sound work and yet somehow it does. It mirrors the dysfunctional functionality of the Czech nation that I fell in love with it.
To label the album merely a funk album does not do justice to explain how madcap it is at times. The opening track Time For The Payback is a primary example of this featuring heavy synth work, scatting, Mongolian throat-singing, and mad guitar riffs all in one. This kind of ‘musical schizophrenia’ (a term coined by friend of the project, Erik Rabasca) might be irritating and jarring to some, but I just interpreted it with the playfulness I imagine it was created with. There are some genuinely great funk songs on the album such as catchy earworm A Song For All Nations and Kit Bike. My favourite song is probably the faux-gospel/R&B number God Is A Goalie, which despite being utter tongue-in-cheek nonsense lyrically is a genuine banger. The lyrical mischievousness on show doesn’t peak here, but rather does on soul/drum and bass fusion track Allah Took My Tartar Sauce and is downright hilarious in the lampooning of Anton Chekhov and co. in My Day Is A Russian Play. Other particularly enjoyable weird features include the nearly three minutes of silence in the title-track after what seems to be a peaceful ending to the entire piece, before that ‘chill’ is totally ruined by what sound like a flatulent Czech robot. Despite the album being littered with unexpected idiosyncrasies, that don’t seem to be cohesive in any way, like just some of the aforementioned ones, the record just makes sense even though it absolutely shouldn’t. Above anything else though, what I truly love about the album is how it reminds me of the seemingly unique unashamed Czech spirit that defines a nation that for so long was robbed of carving its own special identity.