Want a way to make easy money? Let people listen to this CD, and then bet them they can’t name this group’s home city. Nashville? Memphis? Austin? You’ll think you hit the lottery. Try Madrid, folks. It’s a little bit off the beaten path, and you’d never guess from the sound of the music.
In doing my research into Insanity Wave, I learned all about their hard-rocking influences: Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Paul Collins Beat, Plimsouls and Green Day. I looked at the cover art, a Simpsons-like animated version of this Spanish trio and I put the disc in, expecting to hear nothing less than some driving punk/rock or power pop. I had to eject it to make sure I had the right CD.
The music I was hearing had pedal steel guitar twang, as if I’d stumbled upon some lost Poco or Son Volt or Wilco track. The opening title track is an embittered lament about the “shit-paying gigs” of the minor league, a necessary evil for groups hoping to get exposure en route to elusive fame and fortune: “I tell myself I won’t play them again / But as I view myself onstage / what a liar I’ve become”. It’s a bleak lyric, though probably true, talking about how playing such gigs gets you nowhere except “filthy motel rooms, hangovers on the way back, Monday morning blues” and a boss who complains about his lateness. Still, the song concludes on the concessionary upbeat “But still we’ll give it another try”.
Insanity Wave has turned the volume down from its past history here, focusing instead on a slightly more country/alt feel that’s like Uncle Tupelo and Sneetches agreeing to have foreign offspring who sing in English. Some might even recognize a touch of Let’s Active in the music here—understandably, as the CD was recorded and produced by Mitch Easter in his very own studio, “The Fidelitorium”, in Kernersville, North Carolina. Easter does his usual superb job of conjuring great clean pop music performances from the bands working with him, and even contributes some extra guitar licks as well. He gets some impressive vocals from bassist Colman Gota Thompson, expressing the frustrations of various lost loves and the bitter battles against day-to-day depression. According to Insanity Wave, living life is a struggle—I’m in no position to argue otherwise.
Way back in the early ‘90s, five high school friends started a noisy punk-rock band that met in Colman’s seventh floor apartment in the center of Madrid. Success then was measured in annoying the neighbors, but as the years went by, the group became a power-trio known as Insanity Wave. Joining Thompson and his bass were Juan Corrales Rodriganez on the drums and Chema Martinez Escrina on guitars.
In 1993, the strong songwriting of their first EP drew the attention of critics and led to a long tour in Spain and France. By 1995, their first album Go Off, a collection of more serious pop songs, was released to good reviews. More extensive touring followed. For their second album, the trio flew to Chicago to work with producer Jeff Murphy (The Shoes) and recorded Do the Worm, which featured more of the same pop harmonies and infectious melodies, only this time with a more rocking, harder edge to it.
On The Minor League, the boys have opted for more of a roots-rock approach, with tighter arrangements that show off the strong songwriting to best advantage. Guitar, bass and drums all work as one unit here, complementing each other on all 10 tracks. “Tonight” the CD’s first single, builds from folk/pop into a more rocking effort and does it all in under two minutes. Songs like “Rock No.1” and “Other People’s Game” hearken back to the harder guitar-driven rock of their last album. “Could You Be the One” even displays a little psychedelic guitar flavor.
If you are a fan of the more rocking side of Wilco or Son Volt, you’ll love Insanity Wave’s latest. They have a real knack for typical American/British pop/rock with a slightly earthy country flavor and actually do a better job of it than many native bands (Goo Goo Dolls, for instance). Seek out The Minor League and hear for yourself why the country in country/alt/rock might actually be referring to Spain.