The current global quarantine situation created by COVID-19 has led millions of people whose daily lives have been disrupted to wonder what to do with newfound time now on their hands. Meanwhile, depending on their profession, other people have even less extra time than they had before. There’s a good argument to be made that it’s OK not to do much with this time. After all, life has gotten weird, and it might take all the energy we’ve got just to process that weirdness daily.
Scott McCaughey – he of many bands, including but not limited to Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5, the Baseball Project, Filthy Friends, and the No Ones, among others – found himself with too much time on his hands after the postponement of a tour by the No Ones, who recently released the excellent The Great Lost No Ones Album. Following his musical instincts, McCaughey hunkered down in April to make an odd little gem of an album. Recorded under McCaughey’s basement-rocking DIY alter ego, Scott the Hoople, Sad Box & Other Hits, suddenly popped up on Bandcamp on 1 May, the self-imposed deadline McCaughey had established.
If McCaughey’s main purpose for Sad Box & Other Hits was to scratch that creative itch and challenge himself to release an album by the beginning of May, then he has already achieved his goals, and has probably moved on to some new project. But fans of quirky pop-rock – and, of course, those who enjoy one or more of McCaughey’s other projects – should give a listen to Sad Box & Other Hits. There is some good quirky pop-rock fun here.
While the creation of Sad Box & Other Hits was instigated by the current pandemic lockdown, any allusions to it are just that – allusions. On the opening track, a mid-tempo ballad called “All Strung Together”, McCaughey notes, “It’s a good time to start worrying about what the future holds / It’s a good time to think of all the others out here in the cold”, then observes, “Here we are, all strung together / Let’s keep it that way.” The title of “Why Can’t We Do Less Wrong?” also sums up the kind of philosophical questions that some quarantine time can generate.
Generally speaking though, Sad Box & Other Hits is not Scotty McCaughey’s major statement on life under lockdown. The “sad box” referred to in the pseudo-mournful title track, is an empty box for Zupa Singing Chicken toys that McCaughey or one of his associates encountered in a local convenience store. A quick Google search will reveal that the colorful chickens would make a “fun kids’ toy and adult novelty item” that one can “give as a gift, gag, or prank”, so of course it would make someone sad to see a box bereft of such chickens.
Topical concerns aside, Sad Box & Other Hits bears all the hallmarks of McCaughey’s work. “The Gift That Keeps on Giving” and “Rails and Sails” are breezy pop-rock songs, while “Sadder Than a Shit Show” mines a vein of self-pity that can be found on some of the Minus 5 albums. While Sad Box & Other Hits might not prove to be a major entry in Scott McCaughey’s overall body of work, it surely counts as a minor entry, and these days — any day, really — that’s something to be grateful for. Not bad at all for a few weeks’ worth of playing in the basement.
I wonder if those Zupa Singing Chickens can be ordered online?