Following up huge music success must suck. Ask anyone, ask the one-hit wonders, the one album-wonders (remember 7Mary3?). The classic, of course, is the often discussed “sophomore slump”, where you put out a well-tested, well-toured, from bar-to-fucking-bar album after some dude “discovers” you, helps you lay down your tracks, it clicks with the market, and BLAMO! EXCELSIOR!
Ah, but then I guess you go back in the studio to either a) put out more of the same (don’t mess with success, right?) or b) maybe show the world your “other side” that that song doesn’t define you, dammit! or c) delicately evolve your sound, push it, ever so gently, more mainstream? or d) fuck, I have no idea! Someone give me a beat! In the eyes of the mass consumer market, I’m supposin’ most people fail, otherwise it wouldn’t be called the “sophomore slump”, right? Some of my favourite bands had this problem. Son Volt’s “more of the same” second album (granted, they had that whole Uncle Tupelo thing before hand, but I think you follow me), Weezer’s “hey what happened to sweater song part II” is one of the more famous, are the two that first come to mind for some reason… Fortunately both never gave up and kept on a-truckin’.
Then there’s the other breed of slumpers, the ones who put out an album, get some niche success, put out another album, get HUUUGE, put out another album and “POOF! see-ya!”. One of my favourite examples of this is Live, anybody remember, “paaa-aaa-aa-ain lies, on the riverside”, probably a few of you, then suddenly, “oh now I feeeel it, coooming baaack again! Like a rooollin’, thuunder chaasin’ the wind! Forces pullin’ from the center of the earth ah-gain, I can feeeeel iiiiiiiiiiiiit!” (from memory, no clue if it’s right) was everywhere! And I mean EVERYWHERE! Then Secret Samadhi (my favourite, actually) showed up and you could hear, not the dolphins, but the crickets cry.
Well, the same thing happened to one of my favourite old-school (and by old-school, I mean early 90’s) Canuckian bands, my beloved Crash Test Dummies. Mr. Brad Roberts, his brother, and crew must’ve been on cloud nine with the surprise success of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” and the subsequent Weird Al parody (you know you’ve made it when Weird Al parodies you). They had some moderate Canadian success with “Superman Song” and maybe a bit with “Androgynous”, both from their first album, their ability to see odd little point-of-views in life and build a quirky pop song around it was absolutely brilliant.
So, when Roberts turned up the amp and plugged in his ee-lectric geetar for his next ensemble of observations, I can only imagine a bit of surprise that songs about taxedermy, a woman, wishing to be special and god giving her a beard, being a worm, and being outlived by a paperweight did not warsh over well the masses. A Worm’s Life landed in the bargain bin (except in Canada). From then on we saw our dear talented Brad seemingly having fun by switching music styles even more, from Harlem sexy to hip-hop/rap to bar-reverb-bluesish, and (in my humble opinion) kicking ass (and drinking booze) at every turn.
BUT, it was this album which would turn the “hey don’t you love that Mmm Mmm Mmm song” band into the “Crash Test Dummies? didn’t they have that stupid song with no words in the chorus?” band. The evil selfish bastard in me that often wants bands to be all his own was secretly happy. Now, only a relatively small group of people (and most of Canada) cared about the Dummies. And we’d load the cassette in the car, and sing about the trials & tribulation of being a dog at the top of our lungs… and you know what? We were happy.
And then there’s a follow-up of a whole different sort… Re-naming, re-branding, or basically, leaving the comfort of what you had to start anew! I’d imagine sometimes you just need a fresh start, a new set of sheets, a fresh pair of underwear, a… well, you get me. David Lowery must’ve caught a whiff of the stink and decided to dump everyone’s quirky little Camper Van Beethoven, and become the relatively-straight-shootin’ Cracker!
I think this is a tough move, but sometimes it’s just the way it needs to be, though traditionally the net result of a move like this is a big fat step toward obscurity, especially in the pre-internet days of yore, but surprise, surprise, Cracker hit a nerve with our new anthem “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)”, and suddenly non-weirdos knew who David Lowery was, or at least, began to recognize his voice when it came on the “modern rock” station, as the album tipped toward platinum (really? damn).
But what of the album? The album that, for a brief period in the 90’s, catapulted Lowery out of weird alternative college band to full-fledged radio-friendly rock? Well, it simply kicks ass. Pretty much heads up and looking straight ahead, there’s not a dull moment on the album. To call it “cracker soul” is an unbelievably perfect term as the gospel takes the back up and the bluesy rock carries us along, maybe through alligator alley, on a hot and humid road trip down south.
Later, Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven would co-exist in some weird universe quantum-theory type twist, though they must never see each or the time-space continuum will cease to exist! But for a while, back in the 90’s we rocked while we mourned, it was bittersweet, but in hindsight the hurt healed nicely, didn’t even leave a scar! Once the band-aid was removed, all was well and we got to go play outside once again
I don’t know… just enjoy!
Ah, good times, good musings, good blast for the past. What was the point of this post? Can’t remember, just a bunch of ramblings to give me an excuse to post some music I love! Oh the 90’s… Sometimes I DO miss you (if only just a tiny bit, here and there). Now, go give Crash Test Dummies and Cracker all your love here, here, or at your local record shop! And as a little bonus, the little ditty that closes out A Worm’s Life, quite autobiographical, not just lyricall, but literally, I imagine…Crash Test Dummies – 12 Swatting Flies