Crash Test Dummies: Oooh Lala!

The Canadian band's first disc in six years features some truly strange arrangements and an intriguing mix of new tunes.

Crash Test Dummies

Oooh Lala!

Label Website: None
Rank: 7
Label: Deep Fried
US Release Date: 2010-05-11
UK Release Date: 2010-05-11

Just as The Eels are essentially Mark Everett and a revolving band of side players, Crash Test Dummies are basically Brad Roberts and whoever else he brings along for the ride.

The 19-year-old Canadian band is Roberts' vehicle for whatever is on his mind musically and lyrically. He's not exactly prolific -- this is the Dummies' ninth album in 19 years -- but he's always interesting. And much like Everett, Roberts has a skewed perspective that seems to see the world through a different filter than the rest of us.

That's a good thing, of course, and it's typically what we should expect from artists. Oooh Lala! is the Crash Test Dummies' first release in six years and it's a long way from the alternative rock that brought the band to prominence in the early '90s. While it's kind of hard to imagine now, this is a band that sold millions of records, was nominated for a Grammy with 1993's God Shuffled His Feet, and had a substantial hit with the song "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm."

It feels like forever since then, just as it seems impossible for an idiosyncratic band like this to break out in today's music industry. It's a good thing for Roberts that he no longer has to worry about such ephemera.

Oooh Lala! is a charming oddball of a disc with nothing that even sniffs of a "hit." The vibe is equal parts Tom Waits and XTC, with an emphasis on unusual sounds, quirky lyrical perspectives and intricate craftsmanship. The catch is that Roberts and his co-writer and producer Stewart Lerman (Antony & The Johnsons and The Roches, among others) wrote many of the songs using analog toys from the '70s.

This sounds weirder than it is because Roberts and Lerman only used the toys -- especially something made by Mattel called an Optigan -- as the bedrock for the original arrangements. So it's not like you hear the plinking of out-of-tune plastic toys interfering with the songs. Instead, there's a slightly eerie carnival-like atmosphere on Oooh Lala that is best described as baroque pop.

In the center of everything is Roberts' rich baritone, which is instantly recognizable. It's an instrument in its own right, and something that must sometimes feel like a burden to him. It's not like he can bust out a falsetto or dramatically shift range, so he's always in the same vocal groove.

Fortunately, on the disc's 11 songs (with the exception of the closing cut that is sung by long-time Dummies member and collaborator Ellen Reid), Roberts' subject matter and arrangements fashion a strong, sympathetic backdrop for these succinct musings on relationships and the mysteries of day-to-day life.

At first, songs like "Songbird "Put a Face", and "Paralyzed" sound simple. But that's deceptive because the arrangements are full of nuances -- strings, odd ehcoes, Reid's gorgeous harmonies tagging along with Roberts' big voice -- and the lyrics reveal subtle images that resonate even as the next song begins.

Perhaps most impressive is the two unabashed love songs that anchor the middle of Oooh Lala!. "And It's Beautiful" is a happy, optimistic tune that features a catchy finger-picked guitar and wonderful backing vocals. It's the sound of a guy who's happy in his relationship and not afraid to lay it on the line without any cynicism or irony getting in the way. "Heart of Stone" is jarring in its maturity. It's a complex exploration of what happens when a couple grows old together and accepts their mortality.

That's big stuff, and Roberts deserves credit for not flinching in the face of what's on his mind. Oooh Lala! exudes an artistic honesty that's admirable. It's not always what you want to hear -- at times, it just feels too serious and weighty -- but it's real and true.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less

On "Restless Mind", Paul Luc establishes himself as an exceptional 21st century bard who knows his way around evoking complex emotions in song.

The folk-rock swing of Paul Luc's upcoming Bad Seed is representative of the whole human condition. Following his previous track release in "Slow Dancing", the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter is sharing another mid-tempo, soulful number. This time, it describes the way too familiar feelings of uncertainty and diversion can, at times, sneak up on all of us.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.