The Dirtbombs don’t give a fuck. With a setlist that includes everything from throwback techno to garage gospel, the Detroit quintet plays whatever it wants, following frontman Mick Collins on all his crazy sonic adventures. He writes the songs, which are informed by a vast musical taste and versatile vocal delivery, and his band adapts, no matter the genre. Because they’re versed in so many different styles, the Dirtbombs can be whatever band they want to be.
For Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey!, they’re a bubblegum pop group in the vein of 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Banana Splits. It’s something Collins has threatened to make for years: a Dirtbombs album that revisits pop’s cheesiest era. In its prime, bubblegum was some of the most sterile music one could consume, commissioned by suits, created by session musicians, and written by ghostwriters in office buildings. Yet it still has an innocent charm, a childlike quality.
Collins treated it as a challenge, as Ooey is completely original, not a covers album like that genre exploration might suggest. The Dirtbombs recreate the bubblegum sound with their usual tools (dual drums, fuzzy guitars), but employ a long list of contributors (so long it wouldn’t fit on the album sleeve) to fabricate the “overproduced-ness” that defined the genre. For example, a track like “Girl on the Carousel” has more flute than guitar, and cute couplets to boot: “When the music plays/ it’s the best of days/ While she rides around/ the horses go up and down.” All chorus-verse-chorus, all sugary sweet.
Collins carries Ooey with his falsetto, but drummers Ben Blackwell and Pat Pantano prove equally vital. The beats and breaks on some tracks (“Sugar on Top”, “Hey! Cookie”) are as catchy as any riff and are mixed to be the loudest audible instrument — a wise production move. Blackwell and Pantano can’t save Collins’ weaker melodies (“It’s Gonna Be Alright”, “Sunshine Girl”), but somehow this adds to the album’s historical accuracy. Every bubblegum pop record had its share of filler.
After listening to Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey!, that opening statement isn’t quite right. The Dirtbombs want us to think they don’t give a fuck. This record took two years to make, and it’s far more calculated than its premise insinuates. Even if Collins and the band are just having a laugh, owning up to that bubblegum LP they promised fans long ago, two years is a long time to spend on a joke. They wanted to make this, and spent the time, money, and energy to do so. Ooey was a bizarre concept that, with effort and care, became an effective reality.
Essential Tracks: “Crazy For You”, “Girl on the Carousel”