[31 July 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
In 1991, a quirky upstart American alternative rock band called Too Much Joy released a stellar album of goofy songs entitled Cereal Killers. On that album, you’ll find a track called “King of Beers”, a sarcastic ode to jocks who rule bars everywhere. Well, Swiss quartet the Dentals – who sound like a cross between They Might Be Giants and the Barenaked Ladies with their acoustic, softly strummed alterna joke folk – have taken the ball from Too Much Joy and run with it. Their debut album, Tennessee, so named as that’s where it was recorded, is rife with all sorts of songs that reference hoppy drinks. There’s “A Song Not About Beer” (it actually is). There’s “Career for Beer”. And then there’s “I Love You Even More” ... as in “I Love You Even More Than Beer”. That doesn’t include references to alcohol consumption in the lyric sheet of the remainder of the songs found here, of which there are 13 in total. It seems like just about every song here is about drinking, and either you’ll find much to enjoy about that in a drunken humor kind of way, or you will be severely annoyed that that’s pretty much all of these guys have on their mind.
If the latter’s the case, it would be sort of too bad, as there’s some really outstanding material to be found on Tennessee. The one song worth highlighting is “Heading for the Door Again”, which shows that these Europeans have been listening to classic alternative Canadian rock. I can’t make up my mind if the song is a homage to the Inbreds, the Grapes of Wrath or 54.40, but there’s a certain ‘90s Canadian cadence to the material. You’d be making an honest mistake if you thought the track came from the Great White North. It’s really something to hear, and a reason to find this album and buy it. As well, the band has a rather cheeky brand of coy humor that is winning. Sample song titles include the awesome “I Am Well But You Are Paul Weller”, “Not Every Idiot Knows How to Drive a Car” and the tongue-in-cheek “I Am an Artist”. The only unfortunate lapse on this record is there’s the inclusion of a very non-politically correct tune called “Mentally Retarded”, which contains the sole lines “I’m not mentally retarded ... / No, I’m not,” repeated ad infinitum in a rather non-ironic way. It’s kind of too bad, because otherwise Tennessee, for all of its songs about drinking (which do kind of get a little overwrought), is quite the enjoyable little album of slyly funny songs that display a certain cleverness and way with bon mots. Maybe with a little less time at the beer taps and an expanded worldview, the Dentals might have their own minor league classic in the vein of Cereal Killers that gets passed around from person to person in the know. Still, while not perfect, Tennessee is pretty darn good, thanks to some catchy, witty material.