Guilty pleasures are the bands and albums that force us to roll up our windows or kill the radio all together when we come to a crowded stoplight. It’s the music that gets stored in our other CD cases and uploaded to our backup Ipods. We inexplicably fell in love with this music at one point and never could abandon it, even when we knew we should have. These guilty pleasures are the indefensible chinks in the armor of our exquisite and infallible musical tastes. Sharing them is confessional more than anything else. In this spirit, I begin with these well-known words of contrition: Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been three minutes since I last listened to Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm…
Everything about the Crash Test Dummies is a guilty pleasure for me. The deep bass voice of lead singer Brad Roberts, which he attributes to a fictitious third testicle, has no business being at the forefront of rock and roll songs. More over, Roberts’ unique accent transforms the simplest of words into bizarre creations-words that I’m fairly sure are not part of any language spoken in this galaxy, not even in his hometown of Winnipeg. And when Roberts does come across loud and clear, we sometimes wish he hadn’t. How many bands can open a song with a lyric like: “When I sample from your bosom”? And since when did words like “bronchi,” “phalanges,” and “nomenclature” enter into the lexicon of rock and roll?
The instrumentation is no less counterintuitive for a platinum-selling rock band. Most of the songs are based around the acoustic guitar, and the Dummies are equally apt to jettison the rock and roll genre all together and mosey into a country vibe, deliver a funeral dirge, or kick out a Celtic jam we could river dance to.
And yet, it all comes together somehow. The Crash Test Dummies are veritable proof that if you break every unspoken rule imaginable, you might just end up with something worthwhile, and their first two albums, The Ghosts that Haunt Me and God Shuffled His Feet, are two of my guilty pleasures that never lose their magnetism.
The title track from The Ghosts that Haunt Me is a perfectly crafted pop song reflecting on the secrets and personal baggage we bring to relationships. “Superman’s Song,” an elegy to the Man of Steel, mourns the loss of selflessness and sacrifice in society. “Superman never made any money/For saving the world from Solomon Grundy/And Sometimes I despair the world may never see/ Another man like him.” “Winter Song” and “The Country Life” are sentimental and comical country-rock songs for the modern city dweller who longs for a simpler existence outside of the rat race. “Androgynous” is a “Dummified” Paul Westerberg song that the Dummies supe up and make their own. (PSA: If you don’t own any Replacements records, there’s not much we can do for you.)
God Shuffled His Feet made the Dummies famous worldwide with a handful of folk-rock songs that shattered the perception of what rock radio could play. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”-yeah, the humming song about blue hair and birthmarks-had everyone from soccer moms to metal heads singing along and tapping their toes. “Afternoons and Coffeespoons,” a hypochondria and T.S. Elliot-inspired romp, soars with gorgeous acoustic strumming, the trademark quirky harmonica playing of Ben Darvill, and the angelic backup vocals of keyboardist Ellen Reid. Songs like the album’s title track, “Here I Stand Before Me,” and “How Does a Duck Know?” are odd philosophical rockers, taking on everything from theism to Descartes. I credit these particular tunes for making my college philosophy courses bearable.
So, the next time you’re in your local used CD shop, pick up one of the many Crash Test Dummies CDs piled high in the stacks and priced to move. Remember, the key word in guilty pleasure is pleasure. Sometimes it’s not about being cool. It’s about finding the music that stays with us long after everyone else has moved on to other things. It’s about the music we listen to when nobody else is around. Our guilty pleasures are our secret stashes, and they say more about us than all the other records in our collections combined.
Crash Test Dummies -Mmm Mmm Mmm