Wednesday, March 10, 2004

A guilty pleasure from an existence defined by guilty pleasures: The Pursuit of Happiness. I mean, come on. They’re like one step up from The Odds. They had one hit, a novelty tune that no one ever wants to hear again. Every aging Shannon and Gary probably has a copy of Love Junk languishing in the depths of their CD wallet, sandwiched between Bootsauce and Len.

But TPOH were a top pop group, and so much better than that one hit. Moe Berg seemed like an unpretentious guy, a songwriter who took his craft, if not himself, seriously. I’ve always imagined that the humour in his songs—directed at himself as often at those who've wronged him—rubs people the wrong way. Trying to be funny isn’t very cool. I’m a staunch defender of humour in music (two words that settle the debate: The Beatles), but I’ll admit that the humour gambit can go very very wrong. There’s no way I can excuse Moxy Fruvous, for instance (what’s worse, they also unleashed Jean Ghomeshi on the Mother Corp). For me TPOH get away with it because they deliver their punchlines via some good old Telecaster crunch.

My favourite TPOH album is Where’s the Bone from 1995. The band had hit their twilight years. They had bounced from Chrysalis to Mercury to Iron Music, where they released their final albums, Where’s the Bone and The Wonderful World of… (1996). Both of these records are probably the best of the catalogue: tightly constructed and filled with short, bitter, hilarious songs.

Where’s the Bone has a full quota of novelty tunes, of which “White Man” is the most problematic— it strays too close to The Odds’ misunderstood but still execrable “Heterosexual Man”. Still, Moe gets in a few good couplets (“We like funk and rap and Marley and the Wailers/but when we hit 30 it’s Kenny G and James Taylor”) and musically it’s an action-packed two and a half minutes.

“Gretzky Rocks” is a more successful example, if only because it’s the right and privilege of every Canadian band to write a hockey song. It’s a corny little faux-country number, but I can’t help but feel a bit of secondhand civic pride with a lyric like “When I lived in Edmonton/he made us the City of Champions.” This one can confidently share the bench with The Rheostatics’ “Ballad of Wendel Clark” in the annals of rink rock.

And the rest—hit after hit, pretty much, from the opener “Kalendar” to the penultimate blast “Falling In” (closer “Blowing Bubbles” drags a bit, though it’s pretty and nice). You can’t tell me “Completely Conspicuous” isn’t better than half the tunes on Candy Apple Grey. These are quality songs, and despite my love of everything bloated and bombastic, they’re all the stronger for being under four minutes long.

Where’s the Bone is one of the great Canadian pop-rock albums, up there with Max Webster’s High Class in Borrowed Shoes, The Rheostatics’ Melville, and Forever Again by Erics Trip.

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