Crash Test Dummies: Songs of the Unforgiven

Michael Metivier

Like a bright orange plow in a deep Canadian winter, the Crash Test Dummies keep on trucking, this time with an album full of dark philosophy and absolutely no Campbells' Soup references. Merci.

Crash Test Dummies

Songs of the Unforgiven

Label: Deep Fried
US Release Date: 2005-10-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

In October of 2004 there were two men on the North American continent who had no cause to be forgiven: Bill Buckner of 1986 World Series infamy and Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies. When the Boston Red Sox finally won baseball's highest honor after 86 years, many fans considered their curse's lift as a signal to "forgive" Mr. Buckner, through whose legs a Mets grounder rolled through on route to a Game 6 collapse during the late Reagan years. Buckner, when asked for comment, wanted no part of this spiritual charity. What did he have to be forgiven for? Freak baseball blunders happen all the time; this one just came at the wrong time. Likewise, fluke number one radio hits happen, coming out of left field to float a name like Crash Test Dummies through households all over the globe until unrealistic hype pops it with a pin. VH1 has been riding Roberts' ass for ten years on account of "Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm", neglecting the rest of his catalog with taunts of "one-hit wonder" the way Sox fans gloss over Buckner's achievements. So with the release of Songs of the Unforgiven, let both men remain so. It's time for reassessment.

Songs of the Unforgiven is by no means perfect, but it will surprise anyone casually acquainted with tunes like "Afternoons and Coffeespoons" and "Superman's Song". The album was recorded at the Sacred Heart Church in Duluth, Minnesota, a city otherwise semi-famous for being the home of indie stalwarts Low. Low's lan and Mimi even turn up on a couple tracks to lend a hand with drums and guitar, which is not as strange a pairing as it may seem. The couple' atmospheric sensibilities and subtle spirituality match up well with this set. The arrangements of songs like "The Wicked and the Evil" and "The Beginning of the End" are sparse and resonant, with bells, chimes and organs fleshing out folkish structures. Roberts' unmistakable boom of a voice is given free reign to stretch out in the hall's acoustics. His voice has aged slightly in a decade, but it still croaks with theatricality. It's also the fulcrum on which the album teeters, for better or worse.

Early Dummies songs delighted in jokes, with a light-heartedness that belied their often philosophical themes. When Roberts posed the question, "How does a duck know what direction south is / And how to tell his wife from all the other ducks?", his yawping voice was in accordance with the song's goofiness. His work on Songs of the Unforgiven is blatantly more serious. On "The Unforgiven Ones", Roberts sings about, "The rock that ships run up against / No matter how they tack / The murderers and the murdered ones / And the ones who don't come back", with the same bellowing croon of old. How does this deep sobriety play? Frankly, it takes a little getting used to. At times Roberts' voice reflects the gravity of his subjects with precision, as on the lovely duet with Suzzy Roche on "There Is No Final Winner". At other times, it threatens toward self-parody.

Occasional near-miss aside, Songs of the Unforgiven is a welcome return from a unique songwriter who never really went away. Songs like "Come Down to the Sink Hole" and "Sonnet 1" demonstrate a remarkable ability to write direct lyrics without becoming maudlin, to be adventurous and thoughtful without useless flash. And the able ensemble backing the 17 songs and interludes is equally as appropriate and occasionally just plain gorgeous. So take back any thought of forgiving the Crash Test Dummies. Welcome them instead.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

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

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

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

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