Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crash Test Dummies: The Ghosts That Haunt Me

Before they wore out their welcome with a hit about a bunch of kids overcoming physical deformities and other discomforts, Crash Test Dummies were a quirky Canadian folk band, driven by acoustic guitars and colored by banjos, mandolins, violins, accordions, pennywhistles and harmonicas. They were also led by Brad Roberts, a singer with an extremely deep voice that could rattle a storm window, and offset by the sweeter alto harmonies of Ellen Reid.
While that hit (with the radio-friendly title of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”) drove sales of their second album, their debut paved the way with a sad little song about comic book heroes. “Superman’s Song” lineated the differences between the titular character and Tarzan, proving that everybody has their place, and we should appreciate them for what they are. Kinda like the children in that later hit.
If you can get past his voice, and most can’t, there are some fine songs on The Ghosts That Haunt Me. “Winter Song”, “The Country Life” and “The Voyage” express a desire to get back to basics, with or without his sweetheart by his side, while “Here On Earth (I’ll Have My Cake)” and the title track concern themselves with existential musings on life versus death—all delivered in toe-tapping style, with the exception of “At My Funeral”, which wisely takes a slower pace.
The other tracks fit well; “Thick-Necked Man” even rocks, with plenty of electric guitar and a snotty chorus. A clever version of the Replacements’ “Androgynous” is hardly the obvious choice for a cover, but the winner of the album is easily “The Bereft Man’s Song (Comin’ Back Soon)” and its classic couplet: “I can’t stand her goddamned friends/But I will tolerate them, even though I hate them.”
Produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos for a fresh, timeless sound, The Ghosts That Haunt Me was easily overlooked when it came out, and likely to be shunned by association today. But it still manages to exude a charm that can only be done so by people who have yet to grate on the public at large. In fact, take out Ellen Reid, add louder guitars and a couple of whiny fat guys, and they might as well have been Barenaked Ladies.

Crash Test Dummies The Ghosts That Haunt Me (1991)—

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