Friday, February 9, 2024

Thomas Dolby 3: Aliens Ate My Buick

Frustrated by his second album’s failure to extend the chart success of the first, Thomas Dolby turned to producing other people and dabbling in soundtrack work. This choice to create art over artifice made plenty of room for the likes of Howard Jones and other folks with wacky haircuts and the latest synths and sequencers. When he did get around to making another album, it was on his terms, recruiting a new band of unknowns and starting from scratch. Aliens Ate My Buick unfortunately followed its elder sibling to be received by indifference, though it deserved better.

“The Key To Her Ferrari” is a complicated sounding jazz parody featuring the distinctive narration of Robin Leach. While definitely a familiar pop culture icon when the album was first released, he was already past his fifteen minutes even then, and newer generations might not get the joke. His own narrated interlude isn’t much better. Luckily, “Airhead” is certainly catchier, though certainly misogynist, which the “explanation” in the final line doesn’t excuse. The lasciviousness continues on “Hot Sauce”, contributed by funk legend George Clinton, sporting a regular “spaghetti western guitar” and salsa interlude, as well as references to Larry Blackmon of Cameo. (Clinton previously employed Dolby on one of his own albums, before joining him, and Lene Lovich, and the Brecker Brothers, on a one-off single called “May The Cube Be With You”. Originally credited to Dolby’s Cube, it’s included here as a bonus track slash afterthought on the CD and cassette.) “Pulp Culture” skewers the L.A. scene, with a groove that would be borrowed by David Bowie in five years for “Black Tie White Noise”.

People still thought of albums in terms of sides in those days, and side two is a little more reserved. “My Brain Is Like A Sieve” is an aw-shucks kind of love song with a mild but not overt Jamaican influence. Either Laura Creamer or Rosie Stone (of Sly & The Family) sings the perfect harmony, but that is Ed Asner saying “murder” for some reason in the middle. The title of “The Ability To Swing” is certainly suggested by the tempo, but the lyrics are more abstract. It was even covered six years later by Patti Austin. In “Budapest By Blimp” we finally have a sumptuous track in line with the travelogues on The Flat Earth. At over eight minutes, with a slight Steely Dan groove and impenetrable lyrics, it’s exactly what this album needs to succeed. (So much so that skipping the bonus track is advised.)

Because his name and the very title of Aliens Ate My Buick still told potential listeners that he was just as wacky as he was on “She Blinded Me With Science”, the album didn’t deliver for those seeking such hilarity, which is their loss. Besides, the title still brings a chuckle, and the back cover is a scream.

Thomas Dolby Aliens Ate My Buick (1988)—3

1 comment:

  1. Must revisit Bowie's track and “Pulp Culture” for a comparison. Great review as always.