UPPERDATE: Ok, we’re finishing this baby off today. Comments on the last 1/3 of the songs are appended below.
UPDATE: Entries for songs 5-8 have now been added to the bottom of this post. Let’s talk Rheostatics!
2067 is the 12th album from The Rheostatics, their first in three years. Last year, their album Whale Music was named by DNTO as the most essential Canadian album ever. So, expectations are high.
Now that you’ve all had a chance to give the album a few dozen spins, let’s get down to talking about it. I think track-by-track might be a bit of an overindulgence, so what we’ll do is divide the album into thirds, going through four songs a day for the next three days.
First, as a general point, I would encourage everyone to take the liner notes to heart and WEAR HEADPHONES. There’s some pretty huge production on this thing. OK, Here we go with songs 1-4:
1. Shack in the Cornfields
Vocals and lyrics by Martin. A song about kids who get lost in a cornfield and a man in a shack who gets strung up for murdering them, this is a nice bit of pastoral Ontario Gothic to open the record. Some pretty guitar work throughout, a good rock section in the middle, and great singing. Martin seems to have developed a thing about kids and tragedy — recall “Ship of Fire” off of his solo album Operation Infinite Joy, about a kid getting eaten by a shark.
2. Little Bird, Little Bird
Vocals and lyrics by Dave. A country-ish shuffle with an excellent sing-along chorus, the sweet tone of the song is given ominous shadings by the rather dark lyrics: “How strong am I, missing words, missing words, to tell you how scared I feel? Of an artists fake, of a sadist’s rake, scars on a teenage girl…”
Wicked world indeed. Nice song, Dave. Neat mandolin work by Martin.
Tim song, which has been introduced live as the band’s “song about George W. Bush”. In his book “On a Cold Road”, Dave Bidini remarks about how surprised they all were when Tim came up with the song “Bad Time to be Poor” (off the album Blue Hysteria), since Tim was in many ways the least political member of the band.
Well, Tim’s done it again. This is the best song so far, urgent and angry, with a great opening lyric:
“All rise. The new king of the world just crowned himself tonight by the blinding light of cathode lies. Surprise, we’ve been muted, we’ve been marginalized. Unleashed, delusions of one human head, one tiny beast becomes the very air we breathe.”
Smart production on this song as well, and the synth makes its first appearance. I also like the way it just stops, as if Tim was like, “OK, I’ve made my point.”
4. The Tarleks
Martin song. Ostensibly about the Herb Tarlek family from Cincinnati (“The Tarleks came from the west — they grooved. White belts shining in the pounding sun”), it quckly morphs into a slightly paranoid dreamscape, with Martin being approached by strangers in bathrooms and getting cryptic messages from above. Like a lot of Martin songs, there’s no obvious structure to the piece, just a lot of gloriously weird excursions that eventually come back to somewhere slightly familiar.
Very fun, very catchy tune, and potentially the first single. But maybe too weird, and “just enough cryptic that the morons won’t get it”.
Overall, very encouraging start to the album. Everything you could want from 1/3 of a Rheostatics album — quirky songwriting, soaring vocals by Martin, layers of guitars and plenty of rock. Can’t wait for songs 5-9 tomorrow.
5. Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne
Ugh. Every songwriter — indeed, every writer — has certain tricks and ticks they fall back on when stuck for ideas. Dave likes to write about rock, name checking his heroes and narrating the mythology of the rock experience. To the extent that he’s successful (in songs like Rock Death America), he’s like a Canadian Pete Townshend. When he’s not so successful (e.g. My First Rock Concert), it falls flat. This song’s a panacake.
There’s nothing rock with name-checking your childhood heroes; when done right (Weezer’s “In My Garage”) it can be very powerful. “Ozzy” could have been this album’s “Fan Letter for Michael Jackson,” using rock hero worship as a way of getting at the redemptive possibilities of the poower chord. Ozzy himself is a perfect foil, for meditations on aging and celebrity, and it might have spurred Dave to write something about his own feelings about being in a band for 20 years.
Instead, we get this half-assed novelty tune. Nice Ozzy screams by Martin at the end, though.
6. I Dig Music
Opinions are sharply divided on this tune. Some see it as a hyperactive, jazzy return to the days when Dave Clark was an integral part of the band. Others find it unlistenable. I’m in the second camp. Like “Full Moon Over Russia”, I find myself hitting the song skip button whenever this starts up. I mean, come on. “I Dig Music”?
Every Rheostatics album has a few songs like this; bits where the band just cuts loose, has some fun, tries out a few tricks and tells a few jokes. I generally appreciate them, because it helps give a sense of the band’s musical landscape. But most Rheostatics albums are 18-20 songs long, so there is plenty of room to stretch out on stuff like this. But this is a pretty short album as it is, and two consective novelty tunes by Dave, both “about music”, in the middle of the album, is just too much to take. I’m going to burn myself a copy of the album with this song cut out.
That said, there are some decent parts in the song. I like MPW’s “Polish Fog” vocal bit, and the rock part that kicks in after that. In fact, that whole section could have been usefully appended to the Ozzy song, turning it into a real power ballad.
7. Here Comes the Image
And here comes Tim to get things bad on track. This is a cool tune, with Tim doing his best Thom Yorke impression, lyrically:
Colours on the glass delight the eye.
There, in the desert night a-glow in the focal eye slow,
the computer screen warms until morning rain.
Nice laid-back pace, with a bitchin’ synth break in the middle. The band is heading into Floyd/Radiohead territory here; looke like MPW is starting to have an influence on things.
Another cool thing here is that since Tim is playing all the guitars, Martin switches over to bass and Dave to drums, leaving MPW to play “piano, organ, and many synthesizers”. I saw them play this live last year and it totally kicked ass.
8. Who is That Man, and Why is He Laughing?
OK, we’re into serious Radiohead space with this instrumental. MPW laying on the keyboards and Martin doing weird shit with his vocoder, this is a really great piece. It sounds like an outtake from Dark Side of the Moon as commissioned as the soundtrack to a new David Lynch film about aliens descending on the St. Lawrence.
So here’s where things stand 2/3 of the way through: A great first four songs, then Dave takes things into a rather unhappy place. I suggest fast forwarding past songs 5 and 6, then hitting pause while you roll up a big fat one. Then put on the headphones and chill for 12 minutes until Martin kicks it back up to speed (as we’ll discuss tomorrow).
9. The Latest Attempt on Your Life
Martin kicks things back into rock with this nice bit of exuberant paranoia. Just because you’re singing doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I love the deadpan backing vocals from Selina Martin and Jennifer Foster. “Everyone hates you/you sing like a woman” is a great refrain. Oh, Martin. We love you, and we love your singing.
10. Polar Bears and Trees
Redemption for Dave! I’ve heard them play it live a bunch of times, and it has kicked ass everytime. With Hinterland Who’s Who lyrics and wicked gang vocals (HeyHeyHoHoHeyHeyHoHo!), this is a classic Rheostatics song, it could have been on any one of their albums since Melville. Love it. Of course, I’m a sucker for any song that has the line “the mighty beaver building”. Go Shield!
11. Making Progress
Another slow one from Tim. Pretty, but a bit predictable. It reminds me a lot of “Remain Calm” off NOTSS. Not bad, but a bit of filler. More cool synth tho.
12. Try to Praise This Mutilated World
Oh man. This is one of the greatest tunes the boys have ever put out. It has the same industrialized grief of Little Bird, but the arrangement here is transcendental. When the chorus kicked in the first time I heard this (“Blaze the stars/Shake the bars for you/A sunlit room, we’ll go there soon”) I thought I was going to cry with joyful sadness.
The third act of the song has Ken Babstock reading a poem “the expected” (can anyone confirm if the poem is Ken’s?), with lines that are totally sympatico with Dave’s lyrics. This song alone is worth the price of admission. I can’t wait to see how it works out live. Maybe Ken will be at the Fall Nationals?
13. Hidden Track!
This is fun. It’s Record Body Count sung through a vocoder, with arrangement by Gary Numan. I saw the Rheos “play” this last year at the fall nationals — well, it wasn’t the Rheos, but “Tim Vebron and the Rheostars”. Martin was wearing a lei and suspenders, MPW looked like an extra from THX1138.
A very good album, but IMO not the classic some of the fans on the rheostatics mailing list are calling it. I wish it were longer, and I wish there was more Martin on it. We know he’s got hundreds of songs locked away somewhere, so it’s disappointing to see only three Martin songs on the record. Maybe he’s stretching himself out too much? The bonus though is that Martin has again done all the artwork for the record, and it’s pretty sweet. It is a bunch of paintings of Canada Post stamps for Canada’s bicentennial 18767-2067. Want to see Toronto flooded and a beaver knawing on a palm tree? By the album.
Buy it anyway.