Review by Rusty W. Spell
Martin must have just finished watching the "Night on Bald Mountain" scene in Fantasia before painting the cover for this album. I love it. I have no idea what it means or has to do with the record, but it's great, and it made me realized in all my years of drawing and painting, I've never done a monkey. So I drew a monkey the day I got the CD.
I like the picture of the guys, especially Don's skinny tie. I have one very similar. I wish that they had set aside space for full credits, and I always prefer booklets to foldouts, and they didn't give any times, but other than that, the packaging is great. The little pictures within the circles give this fairy-tale atmosphere to it.
Let's get right into the songs. "All the Same Eyes" is a great song, and I like it better on the disc than I did live. The high note does wonders. I like little things like that. And we get to really hear Don's drumming on a record for the first time (not counting the stuff done on Group of 7). He has this variation of Ringo's part in The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" that I really like. Don's also got this strange way he tunes drums, too. I typically tune my own in a very traditional way, but Don's got me rethinking that. It's funny how the way he torques the heads changes the effect of the band entirely.
And speaking of changing the band, this is the first rock album of theirs since Greatest Hits not produced by Michael Philip-Wojewoda, and I must say that the Rheos do very good by themselves (though I love MPW, of course, and he's probably my second favorite producer: Big George Martin wins). I like the way everything sounds. The only real "mistakes" are those popping noises we get every once in a while.
I guess the little noise-track snippets in between some songs are okay... I'm not crazy about any one of them, but I wouldn't suggest losing them either.
"Fat": When this song comes creeping in, I just have to smile. This is another song that is produced wondefully for disc, even--to me--better than live. I'm a studio freak, though. As the song progresses and builds, the listener almost wants it to get faster, but the steady, insistent tempo holds us back and keeps us on edge, providing us with the magic that comes from the unnatainable. The slight double-voice gives Bidini's singing a great effect. It just seems like a lot of time was put into this song, with the tiny things. It's like when John Lennon said that "I Am the Walrus" can be listened to and enjoyed over and over because of the little things hidden in there. This song is like that. And I think that studio stuff should be more often than it is. That's why songs are recorded. Beyond even melody sometimes comes those little fiddly-bits that seep into our brains, and soon we know when to expect them and they become more important than anything in the song, and if they turned up missing, all would somehow be lost.
I'm still talking about "Fat." I play the drum part all day long sometimes. The way Don (I think it's Don) does backups on the "blue-green tongue" part is funky. I had an obsession with Pez back in 1992, so it's neat that it appeared in this song. The overpowering bass after the "Zombie" breakdown is great. In fact, this entire album is so low and bassy that sometimes--when my stereo is equalized properly--I get a stomach-ache... like when I sat in a digital movie theater and all those Jurrasic Park sounds rumbled in my belly. Bottom line is, this song will forever be remembered as a classic Rheostatics song. (And the "Stony" part reminds me of when the monkey --monkey!--says "Judy" in David Lynch's Fire Walk With Me.)
There is something very poison about "Sweet, Rich, Beautiful, Mine." "Evil" or "sinister" or "dark" isn't the right word: I think "poison" is. That's not meant to be a compliment, but it's not an insult either, because I really like the song. I'm not sure if it's the lyrics, the music, the delivery or what. And in the live versions I heard, when it got to where Martin sung "cockatoo," it was like all this poison was washed away because this was so sweet. But on disc, he says something that is more like "cockastow," and so we keep all the poison. I probably don't know what I'm talking about. Anyway, the "oooooooo" before he says it is cool, and the laugh is wicked, and Tamara is awesome. She has this Linda McCartney quality about her, which is a compliment. I hope Tamara comes back more and more as the unnoficial fifth Rheostatic.
"Four Little Songs" could have been a Dezmond Howl song. All the studio stuff in this song is wonderful. Even get to hear "The Phantom of the Opera." There is lots in this song that just makes you grin. "The laws of the universe, and the laws of the second verse" is one of the best lines ever. And I think it's hilarious how Dave goes "Goo goo goo goo, yeah yeah"; it's like if he wouldn't have said that, then they would have gone "And my brain goes..." forever.
"An Offer" is very pretty. It sounds like a mixture of "Introducing Happiness" and "Row." I'm trying to decide who sings prettier: Tim or Tamara.
Don's "Never Forget" has this certain naivity that I enjoy, with lines like "In your eyes I see the rain, I hear the birds flying every day." Maybe it's because in my own solo debut I wrote a song whose central theme was "never forget" and I'm always naive. The chords in this song are boss. And of course, I love the end, because I know Julia. I find myself singing this a lot. I know she's pleased with it. C'mon, write a song with me in it next!
I just am nuts about "The Idiot." The bells (is that Dave? Don?), the originality of it coming from very old styles (of rock, and of music in general), and that it changes a lot. I don't know; it's hard to list specifics. It's just a well-made song and one of my favorites.
"Feed Yourself" reminds me a lot of "Horses," but much better because I didn't dig "Horses" too awfully much.
I like "The 'You Are Very Star' Journey," but I think maybe I was wanting something else... like a full-blown version of "You Are Very Star," not just one sort of sung and then interrupted by a hockey announcement like on Melville. It's one of my favorite songs, and I just wanted a "real" version. I know that to do that would mean that it would have to compete with "A Mid Winter's Night Dream" for last track, but maybe it could have been the hidden track and "My First Rock Concert" could have been thrown into the regular mix (I would have suggested after "Never Forget" and without the hockey background). It might have worked even better as the hidden track because if we fell asleep to the CD, the tune would have simply continued to lullaby us instead of waking us up.
"A Mid Winter's Night Dream" has the one fish reference of the whole album. After all these years. Kind of interesting. A very lovely song; I'm not sure what to say about it. That's probably good.
Well, to be honest, I don't really like the idea of these sorts of fake "hidden" tracks. One, they're not really hidden... you just let the CD run, and I don't know of anyone who just shuts his player off just because the last listed song has finished. Two, you have to wait around for it (or "fast forward") and that's sort of annoying. I don't mind so much the kind of real hidden tracks like on They Might Be Giants' Factory Showroom where you have to "rewind" from track one. But I'd just do away with them altogether in a perfect world. They're only neat the first time. But to the song itself... "My First Rock Concert." "Gave it up for the meat" is one of the most hilarious things I've ever heard. And it's cool to hear Dave sing about Michael Stipe since he's been one of my musical heroes for a while now. Dave also says my name, even though he probably didn't realize it. Just listen for it and you'll find it, and go, "Boy, Rusty, you are so stupid."
As I once said not too long ago: "Blue is my favorite color. It's the color of the water. It's the color of my eyes. It's the color of the skies."
Copyright (c) Nov 1996 - Apr 2005 by The USA Rheostatics Page