Fluid Ounces: The Whole Shebang

Fluid Ounces
The Whole Shebang
Vacant Cage

For years I’ve had a pet theory that a band’s name is crucial to their long-term success. Sure there will always be bands who succeed in spite of their lousy monikers (Matchbox Twenty, Linkin Park) but the best bands, with rare exception, have great names: the Beatles, U2, Guns N’ Roses, the Smiths, and Public Enemy to name a few.

This theory works in reverse as well. Many bands have found themselves hamstrung by their names. Dexy’s Midnight Runners, A Flock of Seagulls, Dishwalla and Marcy Playground all did themselves in long before their careers even took off. Likewise Fred Durst is no doubt wondering to himself why exactly he chose to name his band Limp Bizkit, with five years’ time now showing him the error of his ways.

So that covers good bands with good names, and bad bands with bad names. What to do then with good bands saddled by bad names? Apparently nothing, if Fluid Ounces are any indication. The pride of Murfreesboro, TN are better than the aforementioned bands in the second paragraph combined, yet the closest they ever get to the mainstream is that someone will occasionally compare them to Ben Folds Five. They’re better than Ben Folds Five of course, but you’re best doing what the overwhelming majority of the music buying public did/does, and judge the book by its cover. Holding albums from both bands in your paws, are you buying Ben Folds Five or Fluid Ounces?

Thought so. It was the name, wasn’t it?

Well, resist that urge to skip this band over. On Fluid Ounces’ latest offering, The Whole Shebang, singer/pianist/core member Seth Timbs gives us more of his trademark dazzlingly witty and literate piano pop, but he also lets rip with a few badass guitar tracks as well. Sure, it’s not ABC going from The Lexicon of Love to Beauty Stab here, but that’s not exactly a bad thing, either. Either way, The Whole Shebang is undoubtedly the ballsiest album Timbs has ever done, and possibly his best.

Timbs doesn’t take the fans out of their comfort zone right away, however. Leadoff track, the galloping “Paperweight Machine” bears a touch of Madness of all things, though it’s rooted in Timbs’ classic pop and Vaudevillian sensibilities. “Crazies” is another gem, though the nonsense la-da-da-dada-da-da chorus tests the patience.

And then there’s “Fool Around”, a full blown guitar rave up (Timbs plays every instrument on the album except the drums, though he plays those on one track as well) about nailing his girl when her parents aren’t watching. The lyrics are a hoot, filled with enough transparent sexual imagery to shame Peter Gabriel and Neil Finn combined: “I’m gonna make the scene out of next to nothing / And everything’s gonna be up and coming / till it’s full grown.” Timbs is clearly having a great time here, even shouting out “Riff!” before going into the, yes, riff heavy bridge. Send this to alternative radio, stat.

The key three songs though, are the last three. “Selma Lou” is pure Southern charm, a fast but soft acoustic jam about a girl who’s never worked a day in her life and shows Timbs exactly what he’s good for (Timbs seems to get laid a lot in his songs); “Tokyo Expressway” is the album’s crown jewel, a song that’s about either a rock star, or the rock star inside someone’s head. “Good evening boys and girls / I’m coming to you from the other side of the world / Where I just lost my job and I can’t say I’m even worth $6.50 an hour.” Along the way there are references to plane crashes, party after party, and even the Kamchaka Peninsula (It’s in Russia, I had to look it up). What makes this song truly special is just how seamless it all sounds, then considering the fact that Timbs played it all by himself (except the drums, played by Kyle Walsh). Sure, he’s not the only person to do such a thing, not while Lenny Kravitz and Joseph Arthur are still alive and kicking. The difference though, is that Timbs makes himself sound like a band, whereas the others are just making songs. There’s a big difference, and Timbs understands it like no other.

Which brings us to the heartbreaking finale, “Destined to Be Forgotten”. A Beatles tribute by way of Elliott Smith, it is not love gone wrong so much as love lost and left behind, which is what most love winds up becoming. The sweet moment comes at the solo, and while Timbs is still a far better pianist than axe man, he does a spot on George Harrison, elevating the song to new heights. Timbs doesn’t let his guard down much — “Bigger Than the Both of Us”, from 1999’s In the New Old Fashioned Way, was probably the last time before this — but when he does, genius follows.

This is Fluid Ounces’ fourth album and third record label, and radio payola isn’t getting any cheaper. At this point, Timbs knows he’s making these records for himself and his friends, while his inferior doppelganger is rockin’ the suburbs. Life is like that sometimes; not everything turns out the way it should. Fortunately for us, Timbs doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, it seems to only make him stronger. Good news for his friends and bad news for people who only read book covers.

RATING 7 / 10