Music has had plenty of controversies regarding lyrics over the decades. References to drugs, sex and violence are the usual offenders, sometimes resulting in bans of album sales and/or live performances. One of my favorite bands, Cannibal Corpse, is, as you would expect from the name, no stranger to such controversy.
Formed in December 1988 in Buffalo, NY Cannibal Corpse has released 14 studio albums and is still going strong. Ensconced in the “death metal” genre all of their songs deal with blood, gore, violence and all things death related. Even their album art trends toward the macabre and gruesome.
Needless to say, this has ruffled more than a few feathers among social crusaders and other defenders of decency and moral values. For example, in Germany, up until 2006 their first three albums (album three, “Tomb of the Mutilated,” was released in 1992) were banned from sale and the band couldn’t perform any of those songs during live performances. Which is odd. As current lead singer George “Corpsgrinder” Fisher pointed out in a 2004 interview “We can’t play ‘Born in a Casket’ but we can play 'Dismembered and Molested'.”
Here in the good ol’ US of A the band came under fire in the late 90s by Senator Bob Dole for undermining the national character. Also during that time period Senator Joe Lieberman, National Congress of Black Women chair C. Dolores Tucker and others initiated a campaign to get major record labels to drop acts with the most offensive lyrics, including Cannibal Corpse.
But what if it isn’t the lyrics that are offensive? Australian comedy act The Chaser, a satirical group known for their programming on Australian television, conducted an experiment of sorts. They did a lounge music version of the early Cannibal Corpse track “Rancid Amputation.” Listen to it but be warned, the album art is pretty gruesome, even by CC standards. What did you think? You couldn’t understand a word, could you? No matter. When you listen to The Chaser version you’ll understand every word. And it’s not that bad, is it? You might even find it kind of funny. The gritty, brutal edge is gone. If you were to hear it as background music in a coffee shop you’d probably barely notice. It would seem there is quite a bit of truth to the adage “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Don’t believe me? Consider the well known song about the serial killer whos’ MO is to smash his victims’ skulls with a hammer. That little number was written in 1968 by Paul McCartney and performed by the Beatles. It’s called Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. Know anyone who is offended by it? Me neither.