(02-17-1989) The Milwaukee Journal

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Frogs save rambunctiousness for stage

WHO: The Frogs<br&> WHERE: Odd Rock Cafe, 2010 S. Kinnickinnic Ave<br&> WHEN: Saturday<br&> HOW MUCH: $3<br&>

If the Spanish Inquisition reconvened in Milwaukee, it's first case might concern the Frogs, also known as brother Dennis and Jimmy Flemion.

On the Milwaukee duo's recent self-produced, self-titled album is a song involving Jesus that might assure a conviction for blasphemy, if not a stern citation for bad taste.

But wait. Maybe a smart attorney at the Inquisition would introduce Defense Exhibit A - the lyrics: "I warned them, no, no, no. I told them that down below, they meant no good when they were crossing up Jesus"

"Gentlemen of the Inquisition," the defense attorney might begin, "I submit that this song is nothing more than an expression of Christian doctrine in today's vernacular."

Could anyone argue with that? Certainly the Frogs aren't pressing for one interpretation over another.

When asked to explain their intentions during a recent interview, they hawed, coughed and cleared their throats.

"What do you think it means?" Dennis finally replied.

Then, hesitantly, he worked up an answer: "It's not anti-religious. I don't know if it's tongue in cheek or not. I tried to write a religious song that would be cool. It's hard to write a good spiritual. I tried to make it seem streetwise. I don't think the song is a big deal. I was kidding, but it might make some people think."

Although known for their zany stage shenanigans, the Frogs play it straight on their album. So straight that many of the 16 songs are open to widely disparate interpretations. "I'm A Jesus Child" works either as an ebullient declaration of faith or as a deceptive spoof. "Funhouse" reads like a homage to Hedonism, yet it's campy fake sitar seems to mock the '60s sexual revolution.

Some of the material is just intriguingly eccentric. In "She Was A Mortal," a god descends from the heavens seeking a woman's love, but departs disappointed. "Hades High School" draws upon experiences familiar to anyone who ever attended American secondary schools.

The Frogs maintain that many of their songs arise from spontaneous creative combustion rather than deliberation.

The album was pieced together, track by track, by the brothers Flemion over a two-year stretch in a local studio. The sound reflects an interest in pop production - marimbas converse with sampled orchestrations, synthesized strings vie with snatches of real cello and George Martin-esque vocal distortions. Yet the end result has an intimate and almost folksy feel.

On stage, the Frogs lean toward a more racous, metallic approach to music-making. Couch Flambeau's Jay Tiller usually augments the duo on bass.

A second Frog's album, "It's Only Right And Natural," is scheduled for release this month on New York's Homestead Records. A less-elaborately produced effort than it's predecessor, "It's Only Right And Natural" leans heavily on homosexuality for it's content. Precisely where the Frogs stand on that issue - as homophobes or gay rights activists or neither of the above - will be a subject of debate in some circles.

By Dave Lurssen