Sunday, November 11, 2012

If you have an open mind, CTD's most recent just might make you say "ooh la la"

Crash Test Dummies are an odd entity.  They have soldiered on even after most of the original members left the fold - leaving just the booming bass-baritone of Brad Roberts and (occasionally) Ellen Reid on vocals.  This perseverance has resulted in some duds ("I don't care that you don't mind") but with "Ooh La La", Roberts has definitely found his stride again.

The rhythms sound antiquated by design - the use of the optigan, harmonium, and other instruments of the like make certain of this.  It gives the disc a quaint charm, though - quaint being a word that fits Brad Roberts perfectly, both now and in the past.  "Songbird" opens up with the kind of classically plaintive Dummies song that filled out the bulk of "God Shuffled His Feet", the 1993 disc that contained their only U.S. Hit "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm".  "You said you'd meet me (in california)"  is a refreshingly lovesick ballad wrapped in sounds that are a bit overly computerized, but considering the nature of what they used to record this with, it isn't surprising.  It's also a refreshing retreat from the awkwardly over-the-top lustiness that made 1999's "Give yourself a hand" such a mawkish and weird affair.  "And it's beautiful" retreats from the electronic flourishes to embrace simple acoustic arrangements again, and highlights one of the changes in Roberts' voice that some might call a bad thing, but I call a good thing.  You can hear he sounds a bit careworn - a bit ragged, rough around the edges - but in an era of so much over-processed pop sanded to within an inch of its life in proTools, slathered with Antares software tricks, you name it - this kind of raw, rough-edged vocal styling is a breath of fresh air.  Coming off this charm, "Paralyzed" conjures up a lovestruck ballad filtered through a vaudeville lens.  Again, the choice of instrument used as a basic backbone for these songs is apparent, but this keeps up the nostalgic whimsy that informs much of this disc.

"The In-between place" conjures up a bit of the bleakness that haunted "Songs of the unforgiven" but wraps it in a far more comforting sound and lyrical styling than what was found on that disc.  Roberts is clearly in a more uplifting mood on this disc overall - the wry humor is still to be found, the melancholy still there in places, but balanced with a gentle, sprightly feeling.  It's almost as if he wants to remind the listener he isn't stuck in permanent sad-sack mode.  "Not Today Baby" - turns the clock even further back - it's like the 20's came and dropped in to say hello - then just as quickly slipped out the back door.  It follows up with "Heart of Stone" which lays out a fine idea, but goes on just a tad longer than it ought to.

"Lake Bras D'or" is a bit too sleepy paired with the rest of the tracks on the disc - but things pick up neatly right after with the hyper-country-2-stepping "What I'm Famous For" that echoes Johnny Cash at his best.  It's a bit slim on the lyrical side, but with a song this toe-tappingly catchy, most listeners would be hard pressed to care.  Ellen Reid steps out for the closer "Put A Face" - really, shame she isn't on more tracks, because she has a beautiful voice, and it fits perfectly with Roberts' musical direction.

This is what it sounds like when a talented musician keeps on with the following theme: Making music to have fun, and not caring if you ever have another hit again.  Many mine this territory - Brad Roberts just happens to be one who does it better than most.  2 thumbs up.

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