Review by Rusty W. Spell
The children's record. The long-awaited children's record. And since it is a children's record, this review will probably split itself in two: with me reviewing both the album as story/drawings/songs/children's literature/children's music/whatever and then just as a regular pop album. I'll focus mostly on the latter. Because if you ask me if I think this is sucessful at being a children's album, I'll say, "I dunno. Maybe not." But the music is great.
Just as with The Group of 7, the narration got in the way for me (and, yes, I already made a music-only CD which I had to actually re-mix since the narration interrupted many of the songs; it turned out better than good--I never listen to the full album). Alternatives may have been acting the story out (Martin's "that was poor" was a small highlight which proves this point to me) or even just having the story written in the book with song titles written big so you'll know when it's the time to listen to that song. Janet did fine, of course, but when you want to listen to music, you want to listen to music.
Is it just because I'm not a child anymore? Maybe a child wouldn't mind, right? That almost seems a useless point since most of the fans are adults, so it should somehow appeal to both. I do have to say that I can't think of a children's album that even remotely appeals to adults, so that's good. However, I can think of many children's stories that appeal greatly to adults (the Alice books, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, etc.). I'm not sure this story does that (of course, I'm not sure it wants to).
I have to say the story is confusing, or gappy. Why is the monkeybird considered menacing? It doesn't do anything but fly away, and the children are the ones that chase it (white rabbit reference). One of the songs says later that they want to eat them for dinner, but I don't see any evidence of that. Why did they get lulled to sleep when entering Popopolis? Why doesn't Drumstein know what a guitar is if he came from the same world as Dot? How can Dot learn to play twenty instruments so quickly and how can she play the wingophone by closing her eyes and letting Drumstein "take care of the rest"? Is he magic? Is the place magic? Why does Dot like Drumstein's brand of music though it seems roughly like the music teacher's: that is, it's not the pop music she admired in the skiffle of The Swinging Helmsmen. Why is Drumstein conducting the monkeybirds when they land back in Harmelodia? What does that mean? Falling through the hole is also Alice. And the most interesting part of the story to me is that their father misses them, but this is also just Peter Pan. Also seems that the reader has no point of reference for what is bizarre and what is not bizarre since we go from one unknown world (not earth) to another. Harmelodia and Popopolis seem equally weird, so we don't get that disturbance that Alice had.
Of course, others don't have a problem with it. I'll just go on.
"This book belongs to" was perfect. "Those Rheos" is funny. I'm glad they reference skiffle music and The Beatles, because this is a very Beatle-y album. I've always said they're the closest thing we have to what they were, especially during that Pepper period. I also agree that this album should be enjoyed with headphones. I'm glad Michael Philip Wojewoda is back. Now to the songs.
"The Harmelodian Anthem," when the chorus kicks in, made me think, "This is big." It made it seem worth the wait, with that one second. I like the fact that children's song motifs appear throughout, the first here with "There's a Hole in the Bucket."
The specific Beatles reference with "I Fab Thee," a very rockin' song. "It's Easy To Be With You" is entirely pleasant. The lyrics make me wonder if this was written when this album was going to be based on Don's "The Sniffing Princess" story. It has sniffing and the garden and bees (I also wonder if "Bees" from the live album was originally intended for this). I haven't heard Don's children's album yet, but I wonder what this one would be like if that story were used instead.
The kids are cute in "Monkeybird." Kevin serves well (again) as the fifth Rheostatic. I'm glad he was brave enough to use the word turd. "Invisible Stairs" is the prettiest song on this album, with another children's song for the melody ("Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"). "Popopolis" is a greatly-produced number, winner of the Best Alliteration Award, and is also especially nice how the vocals keep changing around with bubble-basin effects and others.
When Drumstein says "I'll push them around," I at first thought he was talking about pushing the children around, being mean to them. When I found out he was talking about the musical notes, I wished he would have been talking about the children, because this story is in desperate need of a villain. The monkeybird tries to be one, but it's not. Everyone is nice (or just goofy) and Dot goes through the motions and Bug is practically invisible. (I apologize for constantly bringing up the story issue, but--hey--it's a review after all, and aren't reviewers supposed to be mean?) That's why the dad is the best part, because if it weren't for him missing them, there wouldn't be much of a reason for anyone to do anything.
It's nice to hear Reudi on "The Music Room." That song has a nice fading out of part one. "The Sky Dreamed" is another pretty tune. "Loving Arms" is one of my favorites, because it sounds like a children's song. Maybe it Sarah, I don't know. But I like it, like the lyrics a lot, like the drums. "The Bee Sky Opus In Magenta." "Rhapsody in Blue." Etc. It's fine, though, especially during the whispering/thunder part.
"Home Again" is wonderful. The kids are nice again, and the buildup is fantastic. This is one of the more Beatlesque songs, the strings near the end. And I suppose "Song of the Garden" is the least Rheos-made Rheos song I've ever heard, with lyrics and music being written by non-Rheostatics and the only Rheostatics appearing are Tim on bass and Don on drums (unless you count Kevin as the fifth member). But it's a good song, especially the ending.
So was it worth the wait? Sure. Lots of things to wade through in my opinion, but you're left with lots of top-notch Rheostatics material. I gave this CD as a Christmas present to my best friend's one-year-old girl. I predict that when she's thrown away her Pokemon and Cabbage Patch Kids read-along books, that this one will remain in her collection for years and years.
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