Crash Test Dummies – The Ghosts That Haunt Me (1991)

FrontCover1.jpgThe Ghosts That Haunt Me is the 1991 debut album by the Canadian folk rock group Crash Test Dummies. It featured their hit “Superman’s Song”.

The artwork featured on the cover, and throughout the liner notes, is by 19th-century illustrator Gustav Doré and is from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The same painting would later be used for black metal band Judas Iscariot’s final album To Embrace the Corpses Bleeding in 2002.

The artworks on the booklet of the album are by 19th-century illustrator Gustav Doré and are from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, except “The Flying Man” by French novelist Nicolas Edme Restif de la Bretonne and is from ‘The Discovery of the Austral Continent by a Flying Man’, 1781. (by wikipedia)

Single1.jpg

My introduction to Crash Test Dummies came on June 12, 1994 when I saw them open for Elvis Costello on his Brutal Youth tour. The extent of their exposure at that time was their sole hit, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” and, to a far lesser extent, “Superman’s Song” off of their debut album, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, which was released on this date, April 5, 1991.

Since then, Crash Test Dummies have become a bit of a cult-following type of outfit and I often feel that I’m a cult of one, since I talk to few people who recall them at all (oh, that “Mmm Mmm” song…), much less count themselves among fans. And at this point, even the term “band” is a bit inaccurate, as Brad Roberts is the sole remaining member of a group that debuted 26 years ago. But let’s back up.

CrashTestDummier1991

Out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, CTD introduced themselves with a college radio-friendly folk-rock number, the aforementioned “Superman’s Song,” a reflection on the lack of humanity in modern-day society (the video plays it as an elegy for Superman, with fellow supers attending the funeral). The song starts with a solo cello intro and flows into a piano-and-strings arrangement that is unlike most of their work. As such, it’s an odd choice for a lead-off single, since it doesn’t give a real feel for the album – or, indeed, the band’s work overall. Ellen Reid (the last member to remain with Brad Roberts as a Crash Test Dummy until she unofficially retired in the new millennium) provides the piano and harmonizing backing vocals. It’s a great song, just not like any other in their oeuvre.

Booklet02A.jpg

Overall, the album is more upbeat than its lead single, at times featuring a bit of a Celtic lilt to the music, courtesy of Ellen Reid and Benjamin Darvill. Though the lyrics on the record are more straightforward and less idiosyncratic than they would become on future releases, songs like “Comin’ Back Soon” hint at some of Brad’s whimsy with lines like, “I’ve all my wisdom teeth / Two up top and two beneath / And yet I recognize / My mouth says things that aren’t so wise…” The song goes on to sing the praises of his sweetheart, who has left him, and who wasn’t a very nice person to begin with.

Much of the album has a bucolic tilt to it, with tracks like “Here On Earth,” and, even more particularly, “The Country Life” extolling folksy wisdom and downhome sensibilities, crying the benefits of rural living over the sturm und drang of city life. “I would learn to ride on rodeo / I’ll wear shiny boots and a cowboy hat so that nobody’d ever know / We’d once been city folks who owned sporty cars and fancy homes…” The way he sings it and the accompanying music convince me he really believes it.

BookletBackCover1

The Ghosts That Haunt Me is the most traditional album that the Dummies ever made. There’s nothing kitsch or overtly clever about it. Brad is just singing, and while his voice is richly baritone and utterly unmistakable, he isn’t forcing the depth and rumble that would characterize later albums. He wrote all of the songs on the album (with the exception of a cover of The Replacements‘ “Androgynous” and “Thick-Necked Man,” Ben Darvill’s tale of comeuppance) but he wrote them without guile or condescension, something that wouldn’t necessarily hold true on future releases.

I’ve been a big fan of Crash Test Dummies since I first saw them live (I went out the next day and bought both of the albums that were out at the time) though I can certainly understand why the appeal might not be universal. Too, it doesn’t really help that their breakthrough hit (and, thusly, one-hit wonder) was so off-kilter. I remember the first time I saw them and Brad changed the third verse of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” to something about a kid keeping a tooth or tonsils in a jar. After the song ended, he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’ve been told it’s ill-advised to change up a verse in your one big hit, but then I’ve also been told that it’s ill-advised to release a single with no words in the title.”

Booklet08A.jpg

That mentality, it seems to me, has sort of characterized the Brad Roberts approach. Every album takes on a different musical style – folk followed by pop followed by hard rock followed by electronica followed by country followed by… you get the picture. It hasn’t helped him commercially, but as a longtime fan, I appreciate the adventurous undertaking of each new release and love the fact that, while I never know just what to expect, I know that, at the root of things, it’s going to center on Brad’s voice and lyrics. And that’s what keeps me coming back. (treacherousfriends.blog)

BackCover1.jpg

Personnel:
Vince Lambert (drums)
Ellen Reid (keyboards, accordion, tin whistle, background vocals)
Brad Roberts (vocals, guitar)
Dan Roberts (bass)
+
Steve Berlin (percussion)
Benjamin Darvill (mandolin, harmonica)
Bob Doige (recorder on 10.)
Greg Leisz (pedal steel-guitar on 09.)
Garth Reid (banjo on 02.)
Lynn Selwood (cello on 03.)
Bill Zulak (violin on 01., 04. + 10.)

Booklet05A

Tracklist:
01. Winter Song (B.Roberts) 4.01
02. Comin’ Back Soon (The Bereft Man’s Song) (B.Roberts) 4.28
03. Superman’s Song (B.Roberts) 4.31
04. The Country Life (B.Roberts) 4.02
05. Here On Earth (I’ll Have My Cake) (B.Roberts) 3.04
06. The Ghosts That Haunt Me (B.Roberts) 3.45
07. Thick-Necked Man (Darvill) 3.20
08. Androgynous (Westerberg) 2.37
09. The Voyage (B.Roberts) 3.14
10. At My Funeral (B.Roberts) 4.03

CD1

*
**

MC2

Winter Song:

I can’t say that I miss my old dog much
And I’ve never looked back since I left home long ago
But I hoped a trip into the country
Would help remind me all the things I used to know

That’s what I came for
That’s what I hoped for

There once was good blood in the breeze here
We rode across the lake each new year
What have I remembered
What did this used to be

The ice, it used to shine upon our river
It was a mirror that the cold dark water ran way deep beneath
And here were many years of winter drownings
I kept track of these things as they were told to me

And that’s what I came for
That’s what I hoped for

There once was good blood in the breeze here
We rode across the lake each new year
What have I remembered
What did this used to be

The changes of the year were once a blessing
Well this year they’re the seasons of my discontent
But I cannot rewrite my old diaries
I can only recall all the things that came and went

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.