[1 November 2006]
Big Top Soda Pop is an absolutely delightful record. Mad Tea Party forgo the crumpets and dish up a plateful of whimsy, with attractive, ear-catching melodies and a determination to rescue the kazoo from pop music’s instrumental toybox. The music itself is an amalgam of ancient jazz stylings (“Muddy Water, Butterfly”), girl-group pop (“Berry-Belvin”), fingerpickin’ folk (“Do You Have What It Takes?”) and, of course, the circus (“Big Top, Soda Pop”). And yet the whole thing is remarkably unified, mostly by the uncluttered arrangements and the band’s impressive facility with multiple genres. But contrary to the title of the disc’s shortest song, Mad Tea Party is not just a “World of Novelty”. The lyrics and music alike are full of intelligence, warmth and humor. “Space Repair” is the witty little interplanetary odyssey of a girl who can’t have the object of her affection and decides to head for the skies. It’s a slow, echoey, slightly hypnotic number that employs that most cliched space-rock instrument, the mellotron, but complements it with a playful lyric: “Oh the times I’ll have on Mercury / Won’t Venus be a lark?” It’s simultaneously funny and sad, and in many ways the perfect encapsulation of Mad Tea Party’s strengths. (All that’s missing from “Space Repair” is the group’s uptempo side.) Sure, some of the songs are better than others. But the best stuff is very, very good, and all of Big Top Soda Pop, right down to the closing cover of Melanie’s “Brand New Key”, is infectious. It’ll make you smile.