Friday, September 3, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 175: Crash Test Dummies

Well, I didn't get 1994 like I expected with this review, but I was close - 1993!

Unfortunately, the excitement ends there.

Disc 175 is...God Shuffled His Feet
Artist: Crash Test Dummies

Year of Release: 1993

What’s Up With The Cover?: A famous painting has been altered so that the main figures are the band members. The painting in this case is "Bacchus and Ariadne" by Titian. As gods go, I am fond of Bacchus, although I prefer Dionysus. As Crash Test Dummies albums go - a different story entirely.

How I Came To Know It: I got into Crash Test Dummies at university in the early nineties, due to their hugely successful debut, "The Ghosts That Haunt Me". I bought "God Shuffled His Feet" when it came out because I loved the earlier album, and figured - how bad could it be?

How It Stacks Up: I have two Crash Test Dummies albums. I used to have three, but I sold "A Worm's Life" for a variety of reasons - all of them variations of "it seriously sucked". This album is a step up from that, but a far cry from "Ghosts That Haunt Me" so I'll say it is 2nd, but a distant second.

Rating: 2 stars.

Crash Test Dummies are one of those early nineties bands like Moxy Fruvous (and later The Arrogant Worms) that were pretty popular on campuses of their day. They generally didn't take themselves too seriously, while managing to sing about arty and interesting subjects.

"God Shuffled His Feet" is an annoying record for me - but not for the reasons I've just noted. I am fine with ironic English Lit humour (I soak in it for large parts of my day, in fact). I am angry at this record because it could've been so much more, given the promise and talent demonstrated on what came before it.

As my buddy Casey has often pointed out to me, a band has its whole life to do its first record, but only a year to do its second. "God Shuffled His Feet" came two years later, but the extra year didn't seem to add much value.

Musically, it is a step backward, with very choppy sounding melodies, that almost mock themselves. Self-depricating lyrics and wry humour work better when the melodies they're riding on don't suck. In fact, some of these songs have fairly interesting themes, often relating to the strange aspects of everyday life we can't explain.

In particular, the title track, "God Shuffled His Feet" which posits that once God created the world, he threw a picnic for everyone. Problem was that the people who showed up had a lot of questions for God like:

"Do you have to eat
Or get your hair cut in heaven?
And if your eye got poked out in this life
Would it be waiting up in heaven with your wife?"

God doesn't answer the questions, but instead 'shuffles his feet' and then tells a story about a boy who woke up one day with blue hair. I love that the picnic guests don't let this pass, and reply with:

"...I beg your pardon:
I'm not quire clear about what you just spoke -
Was that a parable, or a very subtle joke?"

The reply to which is more feet shuffling. This theme carries through the album; life has a lot of funny little experiences that are hard to explain, but we all need to just chill out and accept that odd stuff happens.

That could've worked, with better songwriting. Instead, it consistently left me wanting more, and often simply wanting to push fast forward (which you will know, dear reader, is strictly forbidden under Rule #3).

My other major beef with this record is the decision to take an aspect of this band that makes them unique - lead singer's Brad Roberts' gravelly bass voice - and overemphasizing it to the point of farce. On the earlier album, the voice blends nicely into the rest of the arrangement. Here, it is so dominant and overdone it becomes an affectation.

I saw the Crash Test Dummies live when they performed at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria - at an outdoor venue on the legislature lawn. They were, bar none, the worst live act I've ever seen. I would be tempted to blame the sound, since outdoor venues are notoriously difficult to set up, but I also saw Ashley MacIsaac and he flat out lit it up on the same stage.

In looking this album up, I was shocked to read that they've released six albums since this one, including as recently as May of this year. I've always had a soft spot for these guys, who so clearly want to bring thoughtful music to pop. I sincerely hope they pulled out of their mini-slump, but listening to "God Shuffled His Feet" doesn't encourage me to find out.

Final verdict - there's enough here not to sell this record, but it was a close call.

Best tracks: God Shuffled His Feet, How Does a Duck Know?, When I Go Out With Artists

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