CD Review: Crash Test Dummies — Oooh-La-La and Demo-Litions; Playing Smith’s Old Bar, May 22

Crash Test Dummies
Deep Fried Records

Crash Test Dummies
Demo-Litions Cast-Off Recordings 1996-97
Deep Fried Records

By Al Kaufman

Back in 1993, Canada’s Crash Test Dummies, led by Brad Roberts — whose throaty bass-baritone sounded like he had washed down a hive of bees with a bottle of whiskey — released  their second CD, God Shuffled His Feet. On the strength of the single, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” it sold a few bazillion copies. Roberts demonstrated an erudite wit, often name checking the likes of TS Eliot or Jean Paul Satre, while maintaining a seemingly unhealthy fascination with pajamas and bodily functions. Co-produced by Talking Head Jerry Harrison, the album was rich in pop sensibilities. In short, it was everything an audiophile could ask for.

Then the Dummies crashed. A Worm’s Life and Give Yourself a Hand sold next to nothing in the States (but did moderately better in the Great White North). Roberts’ observations became a bit more bitter. A near fatal car crash (irony, you are cruel indeed) and a bunch of yoga classes later, and Roberts is back (vocalist Ellen Reid is the only other original member) with Oooh-La-La. Roberts voice remains as deep and gruff as ever, but he is just too damn complacent. Hearing him sing sentimental love songs conjures up the same feelings as when one hears Bob Dylan’s Christmas album. It just doesn’t sound right. Roberts’ skewed sense of the world is large in its absence. And while he tries to get a bit show-tuney for “Not Today Baby,” and brings an old-time jazz feel to “Now You See Her (Now You Don’t),” much of the music on here, like the lyrics, is (with the exception of the aptly named “And It’s Beautiful“)  just plain boring.

Roberts would have been wise to listen to the new limited edition release, Demo-Litions, before recording Oooh-La-La. While these outtakes come from the era that was to be the beginning of the demise of the Dummies, they show some of the wit and spark that made their first two albums (the first one being the under-appreciated The Ghosts that Haunt Me, featuring the masterful “Superman’s Song“) so great. The songs are loose and fun and include many of Roberts bizarrely lovable obsessions. “I’m addicted to nose drops,” he confesses on “It Might Be Rather Nice.” “Digestive Process” is as detailed as one might expect it to be. Roberts even screws up a line on “My Pussycat and Me” and you can hear him titter as a result. But the last two songs make this special. Ellen Reid’s lead vocals on “After My Dinner” offer up an elegant beauty that falls somewhere between Natalie Merchant and Joni Mitchell. And Roberts’ gospel tinged “When the Old Man Comes” will make the listener all but beg to hear Roberts do what is sure to be a thrilling rendition of “Old Man River.” The song resonates long after the CD ends.

Crash Test Dummies play Smith’s Olde Bar on May 22.


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