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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Bonzo Dog Band: Keynsham


1) You Done My Brain In; 2) Keynsham; 3) Quiet Talks And Summer Walks; 4) Tent; 5) We Were Wrong; 6) Joke Shop Man; 7) The Bride Stripped Bare By 'Bachelors'; 8) Look At Me, I'm Wonderful; 9) What Do You Do?; 10) Mr. Slater's Parrot; 11) Sport (The Odd Boy); 12) I Want To Be With You; 13) Noises For The Leg; 14) Busted.

You can use Wikipedia or a million other sources to learn why the album was called Keynsham, and it might even help you to form a more informative, complete, and systematic picture of the universe, but it will probably not provide you with an extra key to enjoying, admiring, or even «understanding» the fourth LP by The Bonzo Dog Band, so we will not dwell too long on the trivia and instead, will skip right on to the generalization — Keynsham is their second most com­plex record after Doughnut, but still a little less complex, sort of a partial compromise be­tween the experimentation of Doughnut and the accessible silliness of Tadpoles. Let it not be said that the Bonzos made even two albums that sounded completely alike — their menu items all share the same core, but are varied enough to fit quite a plethora of different tastes.

One thing that is hard not to notice is how quite a few tracks here either parody or deconstruct the «art pop» thing — where Doughnut was more obsessed with fooling around with blues-rock and rock'n'roll, Keynsham seems to take note of the increase in popularity of such bands as the Bee Gees or the Moody Blues or any of their other competitors: songs like ʽQuiet Talks And Summer Walksʼ and ʽWhat Do You Do?ʼ combine elements of vocal crooning, pastoral flutes, swooping strings, heavenly harmonies, etc., and end up sounding like authentic «artsy» compositions of their age — until you start concentrating on the lyrics: ʽWhat Do You Do?ʼ parodies the «Serious Philosophical Question Song» movement, and ʽQuiet Talks And Summer Walksʼ depicts a couple's romantic relations as seen through the somewhat bleek perspective of the protagonist, only to become suddenly deflated by the sound of a dentist's drill.

At the same time, the boys are not at all past their usual «slap-schtick»: ʽTentʼ is brassy Sha-Na-Na style pop with a brawny caveman angle, ʽWe Were Wrongʼ is romantic Zombies-style pop with a corny joke angle (ʽThis Will Be Our Yearʼ may have served as the musical inspiration, provided the Bonzos actually did have access to the not-so-popular Odessey And Oracle), and then there's material like ʽMr. Slater's Parrotʼ that sounds as if it were taken straight from the Benny Hill Show soundtrack. Naturally, there is no coherence whatsoever between the «serious-sounding» stuff and the directly comedic numbers, but that is something you either have to take or leave: the Bonzos declared war on coherence before they were born.

In terms of sheer inventiveness, we should tip our hats as usual: the mix of melodies, hilarious lyrics, recitatives, mini-stories, and sound effects is as dazzling and delirious as ever — speaking of sound effects, ʽBustedʼ probably has the single best example of a cow's mooing sampled in the history of all cow moo samples, and ʽNoises For The Legʼ probably has the most irritating ever example of the use of a Theremin on record (one that was actually installed inside the leg of a mannequin, which explains the song's title).

On the other hand, somehow you can tell that, by intentionally avoiding all elements of «formula», the band has driven itself into a rut — now that they know they can handle it all, and now that they have already handled it all on Doughnut, Keynsham feels a little bit... predictable. Like their TV brothers Monty Python, who only lasted a few years before their romance with intellectualized absurdity became boring, the Bonzos were unable to settle their awesome initial explosion into a pleasantly useful routine.

As an incidental introduction to the band's sound, Keynsham is as good as any other Bonzo album — but if taken in chronological order, it does not seem to fulfill its assigned task to stick a wise-cracking knife under the ribs of 1969 the same way that Doughnut did for 1968. The simple pop parodies are a little late, and the art pop exercises do not work very well as «serious» Lieder for the masses (the Bonzos could mime to the Moodies and the Bee Gees, but their songwriting relative to these guys was more or less like the Rutles / Beatles relationship) and do not properly fulfill the task of desecrating these temples of romanticism, either. They're a little bit pretty and a little bit funny, but sort of «midway» in both categories.

The record deserves a strong thumbs up in any case — these criticisms are relative, not absolute, and repeated listens do bring out both the melodic hooks and the pockets of intellectual depth in the material. But the decision to split, which the band took around the same time the LP was issued, was utterly wise: in their current incarnation, they found it hard to keep up with the rapidly changing times — as a 1969 album, Keynsham is simply nowhere near as impressive as Doughnut was for a 1968 album. Perhaps if they had a real Frank Zappa in their ranks, things would turn out different, but neither Stanshall nor Innes could lay claim to anything like that.


  1. What Do You Do is brilliant; it anticipates the Stone Roses by 20 years

  2. Also, Dennis Cowan was a superb bass player