Long shelved collection of parental advice from Dr. Spock set to art funk rhythms and new wave sheen is finally given the release it deserves.
By calling the album Baby and Child Care, the Red Krayola -- here accompanied by Art & Language -- manage to approximate the internal sound and feel of trying to deal with something as irrational as a child. There is constant tension and release, heavy percussion, disorienting secondary sounds and seemingly helpful words of advice that bend and stretch about cartoonishly. It’s essentially the sound of how your brain begins functioning as you find yourself sleeping less and less, the house slowly falling apart around you.
It’s an odd choice for thematic material, but the members of Red Krayola, in all its incarnations, have never played to expectations. Taking Dr. Spock’s beloved The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care as their lyrical source material, the band then embarks on a post-punk, new wave synth funk trip through the ups and downs of child rearing. Skittering drums, sinewy bass lines and exaggeratedly choppy guitars set the tone for much of the album, making it not only something of an informative recording for new parents, but also one that can be danced to in those quiet moments that have in recent months become so few and far between.
“At Best There’s a Lot of Hard Work and Deprivation” not only sums up this basic idea perfectly, but could well serve as a sort of anthem for all those struggling through the transition from adulthood to parenthood. While cut through with a certain amount of humor in its delivery, the lyrics ring all too true for those finding themselves in the midst of “life’s most satisfying station”. “Why We Need Idealistic Children” moves things along a few years in the development of one’s children, placing them in those impressionable preteen years wherein everything takes on a greater level of significance and irrationally weighted importance. Its singsong melody and clattering arrangement make it as disorienting to listen to as the age is to live through.
At its heart, Baby and Child Care is still the usual left-of-center take on pop music one would expect from the Red Krayola crew. But this time it’s a decidedly funkier take, sounding almost as though these tracks were originally to be aimed at commercial radio. Opening track “The Tone of Your Voice: Be Firm, Don’t Shout” is a gloriously funky no wave/post-punk pastiche that wouldn’t sound out of place on any number of compilations of either genre. At times, they even manage to sound like a more in control version of the Contortions with a mild-mannered James Chance out front.
Were it not for the clearly stated origin of the lyrical content, lines like “When a toddler holds the floor and tells a story / A story that’s not true but he isn’t lying, really / Lying is for me and you / It’s for grownups” from “Make Believe In Moderation” would seem like little more than absurdist non sequiturs. But the music itself strives to underpin Dr. Spock’s platitudes. That Baby and Child Care never saw release when initially recorded some 30 years ago doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. However, its appearance now makes it feel all the more a relic of a very specific time in popular music, one which has seen a great resurgence over the last decade or so. In this, it proves to be an album out of time yet perfectly suited for the here and now.
Unfortunately, the novelty begins to wear and the album itself begins to feel more than a tad overlong. By the time the listener reaches “The Age of Three”, they may well feel as though they experienced much of the maturation process in real time, finding themselves exhausted and lacking the requisite energy to continue on. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always fun, but it’s certainly well worth it. Baby and Child Care is a big glorious mess of an album that will help you dance your way through sleep deprivation and the embarrassment of having left the house not noticing the spit-up splayed across a most unfortunate location on the front of your pants until it is far too late to do anything about it.