Tuesday, May 29, 2012
I love Ian Hunter, unconditionally. I love Mott the Hoople, of course, but I especially love his solo work, which is when I came on the scene. And, someday, I'll no doubt write my track-by-track explanation of why You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic ranks up there with the best of the best in my world (but I might just try that with something completely neglected like Short Back 'N Sides first). It doesn't matter because, elementally, one of the things Ian Hunter always sticks close to and what I love him most for, was most clearly exhibited by a song off of his first solo album, a song called "I Get So Excited." That song, which closes the album, is 4 minutes of ecstatic effusion. "Call me a fan, that's just what I am," Hunter shouts against a driving guitar and drum rhythm that pushes him to prove his conviction to the last moment.
What "I Get So Excited" luxuriates in is precisely that piece of rock and roll DNA which I find to be missing in most of today's rock--a willingness to celebrate all-but-out-of-control fun. The Doo-Dads--a children's rock group founded by members of indie-cred-out-the-wazoo groups like Absolute Ceiling, The Bindlestiffs and The PedalJets and Ken Lovern, whose credits include work with great Kansas City blues and jazz singers Ida McBeth and Kevin Mahogany--manages to carry forward that element of rock and roll in a way almost no one else in rock does. For that reason, which is just a starter, I think Yeah!, Yeah!, Yeah!, the first Doo-Dads record in five years, is as fine a rock and roll record as I've heard in a long time. (P.S. I think 2012 is already a great year for music, and the albums I have set aside to focus on this one are extraordinary and heavyweight....but this record needs to be considered in that context. This album should be played next to Springsteen's Wrecking Ball, Santigold's The Master of My Make Believe and Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music--the Doo-Dads are making an important contribution to the overarching dialogue.)
Yes, unapologetically, Yeah!, Yeah!, Yeah! is a record aimed at kids. "Gimme Some Room," the frenetic opening rocker, is a song crying out for space kids need to express themselves. It's high energy from the beginning, exclamatory drums and keyboard almost out of control. When lead singer Mike Niewald cries out "Let's go, go, GO!," he's not holding back, and it's understood that the kids in the house are being called chips all in. I've seen the Doo-Dads live often enough to know the response is more exuberant than any casual adult listener could imagine. That's precisely because the music earns it.
The second song on the album, "The Greatest Kid," may be an excellent album's finest moment, but it has to be. It starts off telling every member of the audience, "You're a Star," reinforced by big sustained chords and bass. Musically, the song is a cross of the always-underground Big Star and the ground-defining Beatles--all aimed at letting kids know they're beautiful just they way they are.
"Hey Mr. Robot" follows as a sci-fi freak-out, again, loyal to the earliest tradition in rock and roll, the novelty song from outer space. In this case, Lovern's scary movie organ dances around the narrative of a child obsessed with a favorite toy that, unfortunately, is not waterproof. When Mr. Robot goes to his somewhat grisly end at the bottom of the swimming pool, backing singers cry you "won't come up," with an abject horror worthy of Dr. Demento and, what? ...Count Five and the 13th Floor Elevators, for starters.
The record never lets up. Shiner's Paul Malinowski's production and heaps of guitar sustain provide big rock bravado to adventures like "Ridin' My Bike" and hanging out at the "See-Saw Scene." "What Are You Waiting For," with its refrain "welcome to the great outdoors," sounds like the greatest TV show theme for a series not yet created. "Popcorn Party" is an ecstatic Bo Diddley rave up with dynamics that echo at least one wonderful Velvet Underground cut about euphoria out of bounds. And "Lemonade Stand," the album closer, is a convincing argument that childhood itself is not without its own ironic distance, a sense of nostalgia built into summer afternoons chasing those that came before.
Among my top three favorites here on any given day (and the others may change) is the song "Why , Why, Why." Yes, it's a mid-tempo reflection on just how many questions children have about the world around them. Monique Danielle's gospel-inflected backing vocals insist that these childhood questions are as important as any existential dilemmas yet to come. From Lovern's always exuberant and colorful keyboard to the swelling rhythm section (which starts with a spare, yes questioning, bass line and builds to remarkable emphatic urgency), this cut celebrates a passion for learning. Again, a trait I'll argue the Doo-Dads comprehend in a way most grown ups (nevermind most of their musical peers) just don't understand.