Originally released as a very limited edition (the band reports there were only 15 copies) in 1998, The Giraffe Album has been a long time coming in terms of widespread release. As a collection of tracks from the original version as well as several taken from various compilations and singles between 1998 and 2001, this new version of The Giraffe Album is definitely a bit all over the place and doesn’t have one unified feel. Even the band says, “this is a record never conceived but born regardless”. Somehow, though, The Chemistry Experiment pulls this off to make a gloriously fun album of somewhat strange but always witty music. It may not be unified, but who cares?
With songs like “Gwen” that sound like they were created on a $20 Casio keyboard and song titles like “Teenage Trickle”, The Chemistry Experiment is obviously a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously, if it takes itself seriously at all. The Chemistry Experiment is not a novelty band, however, and its music has an underlying sincerity to it. When lead singer Matthew Carlton sings, “and now I’m drinking for you” on the opening track, “Reasonably Happy Fifties Bandleader”, you know he means it, and the effect is both funny and tragic. The majority of The Giraffe Album has this same spirit of sad irony — The Chemistry Experiment may express its pain, but it keeps it sense of humor.
In the 17 songs, there are some moving moments, such as the twanging guitars and openhearted vocals of “I Made Her Cry Last Night”, and “Winter Song” with its poignant lyrics like “as the leaves will fall and die on my back lawn, so the memories take flight only to drown my eyes”. Songs such as these show that while The Chemistry Experiment generally chooses to embrace the knowing melodrama found in “Happy New Year” or the absurdity of “Be My Postman”, it is capable of more than just that.
The balance is a bit of a precarious one, however. As delightful as The Giraffe Album is, with some charming tracks (like the poppy “Bubblegum”) being forced into the background in favor of the ridiculousness of “Stevie Wonder” and the pointless “Experimental Pushchair”. It’s unfortunate that with so many songs, the ones that tend to dominate here are the flashier and more blatant ones since they attract attention to themselves. The Chemistry Experiment obviously wanted to give fans access to as much of its music as possible, but it’s doubtful anyone would miss “The Theme from Clay Pigeons on the BBC”.
The true gem here, though, is “Emo Shoes”, which is at once a parody and an embrace of emo. With dead-on lyrics like “I can only tell myself I don’t care so many times before I give up. I’m hoping this is obsession, praying that this is love” and repetitive guitar chords, “Emo Shoes” nails the emo spirit while still remaining a great song. Not all of The Giraffe Album is up to that level, but “Emo Shoes” unites the two sides of The Chemistry Experiment, combining its silly side with its serious one.
The Chemistry Experiment shows potential with The Giraffe Album. Despite its status as a collection of songs from various sources, the band reveals enough charisma to peak listeners’ interest. It’s by no means perfect and it may not make much sense, but it’s still great stuff.