PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Craig Wedren and Baby: Baby

The ex-Shudder to Think frontman shows his playful, slightly electronic side on this re-release of his early '00s band's debut.


Craig Wedren and Baby

Baby

US Release: 2012-06-19
Label: Nerveland
UK Release: 2012-06-19
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

First, a caveat:Know that this reviewer counts Pony Express Record, the sublimely bizarre 1994 release by Craig Wedren's old band Shudder to Think, among his favorite albums. Know also that fandom of the hall-of-mirrors arena rock on said masterpiece doesn't translate for all admirers into unconditional love for the band's whole catalog. Some fans consider the band's evolution from melodic D.C. hardcore to Pony Express Record a completed journey, a move from one uncompromising aesthetic to a more complex, but no less compromising, one. To these fans, the band's final album, the user-friendly 50,000 B.C., and its later chameleonic soundtrack work are unfortunate postscripts. To others, the post-Pony Express Record works are further stops on the trip that shifted the emphasis from the reconfiguring of rock tropes to an open-minded embrace of them. I'm a fan of the second type, and this perspective may be critical to truly appreciate Baby, the only album by Wedren's post-Shudder group, originally released in 2004 and now remastered, reissued, and bonus track-equipped. Here, Wedren and his NYC-based band customize his emergent glam and power-pop impulses with heavy electronic flourishes and a sexy, silly, fun aesthetic.

You might not guess it from the solo albums Wedren put out after the original release of Baby — the obliquely confessional Lapland (2005), a collection of '90s experiments as The Spanish Amnesian (2009), and the hit-and-miss Wand (2011) — but "fun" has been the operative word for much of Wedren's career of late. For the last decade, he's spent a lot of his time doing soundtrack work, mostly for comedies and often for The State alum David Wain, whose Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston vehicle, Wanderlust, features Baby's "Get Your Body", prompting the album's re-release.

The expansion and remastering are nice, but the re-release is welcome enough in itself, since it was so easy to miss this band the first time around. Despite being together from 2001 to 2004, Baby seldom played outside of New York City, and the album mostly flew under the radar even for fans of Wedren's other work. Which may be just fine, because, as good as the songs may have sounded at the time, the years have been kind to them. Since 2004, artists from Ke$ha to ex-Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump have done their part to acclimate the charts to overdriven dance-pop/guitar rock hybrids of which Baby sometimes sounds like a prescient, loving deconstruction.

On "Giddyup", treated vocal blasts and unexpected drum hits complicate the disco pulse, and Wedren supplies some crunchy guitar leftovers from his Shudder to Think days. "Free Los Angeles" is anthemic bubblegum that's as much Cheap Trick as Kelly Clarkson, slightly pre-chewed with typically Wedren wordplay like "Your super Cali fragile kisses sex me out the doorstep" and a New York Dolls lyrical lift to ensure we don't lose track of the band's NYC cred in all this West Coast talk. Speaking of the Dolls, the playful vibe on Baby also gives Wedren an opportunity to play with glammy sexual ambiguity, trading verses with bandmate Amy Miles on "Soft Feminine Boys" and issuing half-whispered "are-you-serious?" come-ons like "Get your clothes, get your keys, get your body".

Baby, in its original configuration, starts stronger than it finishes, the back end leaning heavily on shorter, less developed experiments. Yet it wraps up nicely on "Call Wait", an unusually straight-ahead showcase for vocalist Alex E that rides a "Love is the Drug" riff to a chorus that sounds like old Shudder to Think associates The Dambuilders, and "Leaving Day Ditty", a dreamy take on a much-revisited Shudder to Think classic.

As for the bonus material, there are eight previously unreleased songs, one song that popped up on Lapland in a very different arrangement, and four non-revelatory demos of tunes from the original release. The previously unreleased stuff ranges from mercifully discarded missteps like the aimless metallic disco of "Electric Blanket" and the go-nowhere instrumental "Dancehall" to perfectly good songs that probably wouldn't flow all that well on the original release. Among the best are "Unreal", an "American Girl" cousin that could fit alongside Wedren's sunnier, consciously cheesy soundtrack contributions, and the Miles-sung "On", a dead-on pastiche of early '80s pop balladry (think "Time After Time" and "Crazy for You").

But, as mentioned above, the fact of this album's re-release trumps the debatable added value of the bonus tracks and even the re-mastering. Baby is dance pop that's slightly too disjointed to be entirely danceable and guitar rock too streamlined to win over the more pop-averse fans of Shudder to Think's most extreme avant-punk. But, as with the not-Bowie tunes that Shudder to Think contributed to the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, the not-AM-radio-pop-classics that the band devised for the First Love, Last Rites soundtrack, and, indeed, the respective not-prog and not-glammy power pop of Pony Express Record and 50,000 B.C., it's the contradictions and how they play off of each other that make Baby work. In this case, this combination results in the most playful release of Wedren's career.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Television

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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