How I Saved the World, the latest Mumps compilation, is one more for the retro fetishists. Mumps were one of the more obscure bands that made the Max's Kansas City/CBGB scene in the '70s. They shared stages with Blondie, Devo, and Television, nabbed drummer Jay Dee Daugherty before Patti Smith did, made a demo for Sire Records, and were offered the chance to record with John Cale, yet somehow they never made it. Kristian Hoffman, the band's main songwriter and keyboardist (and later a songwriter for Klaus Nomi), speculates in his liner notes just why this was: "Was it Lance's [vocalist Lance Loud] flamboyantly outrageous open sexuality? Was it that the Mumps were too 'pop' in a market increasingly geared to punk-by-numbers?" According to Loud, the potential deal with Sire was soured by one of the Mumps' refusal to perform fellatio on (pardon the pun) head honcho Seymour Stein. More likely, Mumps just didn't make sense. Fellow scenesters Blondie and the Ramones had '60s-style pop hooks. Television had a unique dual guitar sound. Talking Heads' lyrics were as clever as their sound was skewed. Mumps were not so easily categorized.
Still, Lance Loud was a natural rock star. Handsome and charismatic, he appeared with his family on the 1973 PBS documentary series An American Family, making no secret of his sexual orientation -- although he later wrote that it was more out of laziness than activism. Loud and Hoffman met in an art class at their Santa Barbara high school, and immediately bonded over bands like the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, Sparks, and the Kinks. While shades of the latter two can definitely be heard, Mumps bore more than a trace of bubblegum pop and pure theater. Imagine something like the Archies meets Rocky Horror meets Something Else-era Kinks meets Sparks with a random "Sister Ray" piano drone thrown in. It's that weird. Even the band members' looks were oddly incongruous, as though each one were dressing up to play with a different band.
So, if there's an apt way to describe the Mumps sound, it would have to be "outsider music". It's also a lot of fun. I challenge anyone to listen to How I Saved the World and not walk away with at least one of these pop gems stuck in his head ("Crocodile Tears" is the particular thorn in my side). Often, Kristian Hoffman's songs are as funny as they are fun. "Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That" pokes fun at what he terms "the dread 'rock & roll' title disease" (think Rock N Roll Animal, Rock and Roll Circus, "Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo", ad infinitum): "Two words preceding the object / Make it admissible fare.... / The requirements for correct chit and chat / Are a rock and roll this and a rock and roll that". Guitarist Rob DuPrey (who later played with Iggy Pop) even throws in a riff from "Satisfaction" to drive the point home. The target of "Brain Massage" is therapy: "Here's the answer -- a science that's blessed / It puts the E-S-T into best". Loud gets in a few digs at gay culture on "Muscleboys", one of his three compositions. Poking fun of the six-packed gay men who spend way too much time at the gym, Loud wonders, "Do they get mad? Do they get sad? Do they use deodorant to dry their tears?"
Other songs are less flippant. "I Like to Be Clean" was ahead of its time in criticizing faceless sexual encounters: "Empty ceremony flirting with disease / And the outcome remains to be seen / Quite sensibly, I like to be clean". "Anyone but You", which boasts one of Loud's best vocals, takes on God Himself: " You can bring the end about; me too / You would rather wait it out; me too / But I know it's true -- you know it too / I'd believe in anyone but you".
How I Saved the World contains almost everything Mumps recorded, a substantial amount for a band that never put out a proper album. The accompanying booklet contains the liner notes from the previous and less comprehensive Fatal Charm compilation released in 1995, plus a new essay from Hoffman (it's a high-profile year for him, as he also appears in the Klaus Nomi documentary The Nomi Song). Best of all, the disc comes with a DVD containing 11 live video tracks, a reconstructed performance at CBGB, and six audio-only tracks. Several videos were recorded at a competent if unexciting 1990 reunion gig that included only Loud, Hoffman, and drummer Paul Rutner from the original band. The vintage clips, though, are priceless. The early '70s performance of "We Ended Up", complete with (as Hoffman describes it) "delicately bovine wails" by Lance's sisters Michelle and Delilah Loud, is sloppy but supercharged with irresistible energy, as is the club performance of "Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That". These live video clips demonstrate that, for all the virtues of their recorded music, Mumps truly flourished in the live setting. Since, as they say, you can't go back again, the DVD is the next best thing.