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.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.