Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Back in January, I read a blurb in Gawker that said:
"Put on a flannel shirt and get your early-90's on with the Swirlies."
It stuck with me for a couple of reasons. The more obvious one is that it's strange that a blog that gets many of its yucks by making fun of members of Group A who don't know the rules of Group B would think that a 2nd generation shoegazing/experimental pop band from Boston had anything much to do with le Grunge. But what I really wondered about is the kind of person (who pretty clearly exists, and probably reads Gawker more often than I do) who thinks to themself, "I want to reexperience time-period-x tonight. I wonder what band will provide the best soundtrack." I'm not saying that there's no validity to that view of entertainment, but I have to admit that it's not one that I find very interesting.
What got me thinking about this is Men Without Hats. If you want to see something instructive, go to Amazon and read the reviews of the Men Without Hats best-of collection. It's about what you'd expect: a bunch of people reminiscing about Safety Dance, with star ratings ranging from zero to five. And a lot of the reviews are very much along the lines of "Get your 80's on with Men Without Hats!" Then take a look at the reviews of Pop Goes the World. The first thing I noticed is how much better written they are. The second thing that really jumps out is the fact that all of the reviews save one give it five stars (the one not-five-star reviewer grants it four stars). I can think of a bunch of possible explanations for the discrepancy, but the one that appeals to me is the idea that it would never occur to people-looking-to-get-their-decade-on that a "one hit wonder, eighties band" might actually have written a great full-length album. If that's what's going on, their loss.
Since I'm going to post three songs from the CD today (which is available as a Canadian import), I don't really feel the need to go on and on about how great it is. And actually, the Amazon reviews do an excellent job of explaining why it's so wonderful. A few things that I find interesting about the album:
1. Flute by Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull). The most obvious of a number of signs that Men Without Hats knew a thing or two about prog.
2. References (via music and lyrics) to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's probably worth remembering that during their career (still ongoing, by the way) Men Without Hats covered Roxy Music's Editions of You and the Beatles' I Am the Walrus, as well as Abba's S.O.S. And, they had references to Van Der Graaf Generator, to a Phil Manzanera album, to the Gang of Four (as band and political entity) and to author Harry Crews (giving them something in common with Kim Gordon). I don't think you can make these sorts of connections easily with, say, Kajagoogoo.
3. A loose concept about Johnny and Jenny that might be loosely based on the plot of the movie A Date with an Angel (which featured Pop Goes the World on the soundtrack and Emmanuelle Beart as the angel)? I think they're still trying to sort out just exactly what it's about on the Men Without Hats message board, but it's definitely about something.
I hope that all of this is enough to get you intrigued if you're not familiar with the album. Here's the Intro that leads very nicely into Pop Goes the World. And here's Moonbeam. Yes, I'm posting the "hits" from the album, but they do seem like the most immediate tracks. Rest assured that the rest of the album is all quality stuff, and it flows together surprisingly nicely. [Turns out I have extra space. Here's In The Name of Angels.]
Finally, here's that Roxy music cover that I mentioned above. The Men Without Hats website is kind of clunky looking, but has a lot of really interesting stuff. And their message board is well worth a read (especially if you're not aware of the prices that some of their CDs command on eBay). One item on the website that I really need to get ahold of is the track The Same Halo, an outtake from Pop goes the World, which is apparently available to purchasers of the new album via some complicated passwordy type thing.
Hey, Pitchfork is kind of worth reading today.