Crash Test Dummies: Oooh La-La!

I can’t go so far as to call Oooh La-La a return to form for the Crash Test Dummies. I loved their 1993 album God Shuffled His Feet about as much as I’ve loved any album ever. It turned me into a fan of the band immediately; to give you the short version, I became friends with lots of other CTD fans online, I took over a CTD fan site that one of my friends had started, and eventually turned it (with lots of help) into the Crash Test Dummies’ official website. So it’s a bit of an unfair comparison, but regardless, Oooh La-La is not going to set me back on the webmastering path.

The primary appeal of GSHF (we had lots of acronyms back in the website days) was the witty, quirky, intelligent lyrics that were unlike anything else I’d ever heard. I have no idea what I’d think of that album if I heard it for the first time today, but when I was 17, it was fantastic.

Given my personal involvement with the band, I’m a bit leery about publicly admitting that the more recent CTD releases (which were really Brad Roberts’ solo albums) just didn’t do it for me. The witty lyrics were gone, replaced with short little rhyming couplets about nothing at all.

I’ve often thought that Roberts’ songwriting was the victim of its own success. The simplest song on GSHF, lyrically, was Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, their biggest hit (or, if you’re American, their only hit). Their follow-up album, A Worm’s Life, was full of structurally and lyrically similar songs. Give Yourself A Hand was their next album, and it was the first to feature the lazy, cut-and-paste songs about nothing that would dominate their following records. The lead-off track, Keep A Lid On Things, was their last major Canadian hit.

I remember reading somewhere that Brad found songwriting to be very challenging, so it’s hard to blame the guy for taking shortcuts when there’s almost an inverse relationship between effort and reward.

Point being, I went into Oooh La-La with low expectations. But that’s okay, because they were delightfully exceeded. And I can’t take all the credit; I went into the last few albums with low expectations too, but that didn’t help.

Oooh La-La sounds like Brad actually had a good time making it. Working with different songwriters and composing the whole album on toy instruments has resulted in songs that don’t feel as constrained as those on the past few records. There’s no forced genre or theme, and the album as a whole benefits for it. It’s lyrically stronger than its recent predecessors, and the musical variety helps to keep things interesting.

After spewing out way too many words to set the scene, I really don’t want to torture you further by going song-by-song through the whole record. It shouldn’t take as long to read an album review as it would take to listen to the album. So quickly, the highlights include Songbird (though I don’t agree with Brad’s statement that it’s the best song he’s ever written), And It’s Beautiful (complete with chanting – presumably related to Brad’s Satang Circus side project), and Ellen Reid’s closing track Put A Face. My least-favourite tracks are Not Today Baby (if there’s one word that should be banned from any future CTD songs due to overuse, it’s “baby”) and What I’m Famous For (“you can go to hell while I comb my hair” – I get distracted by lines that are obviously written just because they rhyme).

In a ranking of all of their records, Oooh La-La lands in the top half. If you’ve never been a Crash Test Dummies fan, this won’t do anything to change your mind. And if you’ve never heard them at all, just start with God Shuffled His Feet and go from there. But if you’re familiar with their music and liked it, you would do well to pick this up.

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