Rusty's Circo Review

I first heard about Nick Buzz on a small page linked from the Rheostatics main page, and the way they described the music was hard to take seriously. Things like "does not borrow from other cultures" and "does not rock." Other things that are almost impossible in modern music. I wish I remembered the exact words they used so I could hold it up to what I know now, but as it is now, I know one thing: Nick Buzz is a unique band and Circo is a unique album... more than just a little Martin Tielli side-project.

Trim work: Martin's artwork is, as always, intriguing. The name of the album is perfect too. Fits the mood. A circus is one of the few things that is still around in modern times which uses the same old stuff, but it's still pretty fun and unique and daring. And an Italian circus really fits.

The album begins with "Spilling the Wonderful," a song I heard in an early incarnation--by Rheostatics--known to me then as "So Wonderful." I thought it was so wonderful even at that time (snippet in nature as it was) that I wanted wanted one of my bands to cover it (I still might). I knew also that it didn't sound like the Rheostatics; there was something unique about it. (I'll try not to use the word unique too much in this review, even though I think it's the one-word-summary of this album.)

I'll try to get at this uniqueness in a few words about the ideas running through the album: There is the "audience" first of all, popping up every now and then to give it a lounge feel or to laugh at a joke or to "oooh" like spectators at a circus. To me, it works even better than the audience in Sgt. Pepper's. Then there are the strange noises on the album. Sometimes they're recognizable like cars or people talking, but sometimes they're just noises. I love noises. Noises sometimes make an album. And noises really hold this album together. Finally, the thing that makes this album so great to me is that it sounds so old. It has modern instruments (even post-modern sounds) and there's no way it could have been made too many decades ago, but strip those elements away and it sounds like songs from at least as far back as 1940. You love it like you love your grandfather's music, except that it's yours. Old and foreign: two things that make the album what it is.

Back to the songs. "That's What You Get for Having Fun" furthers Martin's infatuation with monkeys. And in this case, funky monkeys, because this is a pretty funky song. The closest thing on the album to "rocking," but it doesn't do that. Maybe grooves, maybe a bit swanky, but it doesn't rock. The bold statements are still safe.

"Just Because" is very pretty. Old-sounding again, but this time I'm thinking Pinnochio and an even better version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" (which is saying a lot). If this were in a Disney movie, it would win best song. Or even in a musical. Goldsmith and Tielli did a good job putting this one together.

Everyone seems to cover Joni Mitchell, which is fine--apparently--because I've liked all the Joni Mitchell covers I've heard (even if I'm not the hugest Joni Mitchell fan), including this one, "River." I've never heard hers, but this one sounds very "wintery." I listened to this song once in the blazing sun and I believed at least for a little that it was "coming on Christmas."

"Sane, So Sane" is one of my favorite tracks on the disc (which is also saying a lot). I like the circularity of it (nicely characterized by the lyrics being written in a circle around the foldout). Cheri Crist and I agree that this sounds like David Bowie. The train effect is great, the way it builds and takes over. I could listen to an infinite version of this song, I think.

How a cowbell (with a cow!) can work perfectly with this georgeous song is a mystery in songwriting I wish I could master. Maybe it's juxtaposition, or maybe it's just the art of hanging on the edge. At any rate, "A Hymn to the Situation" is a georgeous song that happens to have a cow in it. (Cheri's review of this song: "Sounds like a warped Bette Midler tune--in a good way." I can go with that.)

"Fornica Tango" continues with the Italian theme, this time in only Italian (translations anyone?). The best I can make it is that it's sung by an organ grinder whose monkey (monkeys again!) goes nuts and breaks something. Martin trying to calm the monkey is cute.

One pretty song after another with "Love Streams." And I haven't even talked about how much I adore the lyrics of this album. I think that's saying enough perhaps: I adore the lyrics of this album. They're very careful and perfect and out-there and they make sense.

I tried to record "Aliens Break a Heart" and manipulate the tape so that I could hear what they're saying backwards, but I couldn't get it to work right (I'll put it on a computer one day and reverse the wave file), so it was truly alien music to me until Laurie told me that it was an "airy" version of "Just Because" played backwards. Secret's out!

Finally, the last song, "The Italian Singer/Just Because I'm Nick the Buzz" which seems to approach a story that might have been going on the entire album. When he says "I'm back" it seems right even though we don't even know where he's been or who he is necessarily. Then the second part of the song reprises "Just Because," and reprises are always good if it's reprising something good.

And speaking of reprising something good, I hope that Goldsmith, Tielli, Piltch, and Marsh hop in the studio sometime very soon (it's been too many years already!) and make another Nick Buzz album. Thinking about this review, it seems that I'm just gushing--I usually have at least one bad thing to say--but I guess that's okay.

Only remember that a dream is just a dream is just because...

Copyright (c) Jun 1997 by Rusty W. Spell