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Monday, January 19, 2015

The Bonzo Dog Band: Tadpoles

THE BONZO DOG BAND: TADPOLES (1969)

1) Hunting Tigers Out In Indiah; 2) Shirt; 3) Tubas In The Moonlight; 4) Dr. Jazz; 5) The Monster Mash; 6) I'm The Urban Spaceman; 7) Ali Baba's Camel; 8) Laughing Blues; 9) By A Waterfall; 10) Mr. Apollo; 11) Canyons Of Your Mind; 12*) Boo!; 13*) Readymades; 14*) Look At Me I'm Wonderful; 15*) We Were Wrong; 16*) The Craig Torso Christmas Show.

The Bonzos' third album is much closer in spirit and form to Gorilla — a creative retread, some might say, but only depending on whether you revere these guys more in their «surrealist-kiddie-comic» mood or their «surrealist-Zappa-like» mood. The heart of the matter is that most of these particular songs were culled from Do Not Adjust Your Set, the proto-Python TV show that re­gularly featured the Bonzos and was originally intended for kids, before Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and others decided they'd still target it towards mixed audiences and see what happens. So, naturally, the proper-accurate way to enjoy these tunes is to see them in the context of the show (something that can be easily done these days with a little help from Youtube), especially consi­dering that many of the tracks feature integrated bits of dialog (ʽShirtʼ) or implied theatrical per­formance (ʽAli Baba's Camelʼ).

That said, there is nothing like Tadpoles, really, when it comes to averaging out the number of tightly composed, insanely catchy, delightfully funny Bonzo Dog Band songs per record. This is their one UK album, for starters, that's got ʽUrban Spacemanʼ on it — produced by good friend Paul McCartney, it's a piece of genius vaudeville and an amusing assault on the concept of the fantasy superhero at the same time (the final «twist» is simple, predictable, and unforgettable), so unbeatable that it became the band's highest charting single ever: I have to guess that even some of the seri­ously-minded people, generally well above the Bonzos' level of humor (or so they thought), had no power to resist.

Equally sharp and up to the point are such songs as ʽMr. Apolloʼ (jubilant folk-pop that describes the «wonders» of body-building exactly the way somebody else would be describing the «won­ders» of turning on and tuning in) and ʽCanyons Of Your Mindʼ (yet another Vegas-Elvis imper­sonation, crossed with a ridiculously «inept», out-of-tune guitar solo and some of the grossest misuses of the echo effect in recorded history). Then there's the «Britishness» thing, which pops out at the very beginning (ʽHunting Tigers Out In Indiahʼ, with the band members impersonating old-school British army officers, even if the song as a whole sounds as it belongs more with the Soviet than the British army) but is not too abused on the whole — most of the time, they are too busy professing their sarcastic admiration for old-timey jazz (Jelly Roll Morton's ʽDr. Jazzʼ gets covered), blues (ʽLaughing Bluesʼ is «authentically» lo-fi, croaky and creeky, like something from Louis Armstrong's ʽSt. Louis Bluesʼ days), and pop standards (ʽTubas In The Moonlightʼ is... Bing Crosby? Whatever).

Some of the inventions are less inventive than others, or, at least, less appropriate — I could do without the proto-Python conversations on ʽShirtʼ, and their cover of the old comic tune ʽMonster Mashʼ is expendable when you know that they are capable of much better writing on their own (I'm perfectly happy with the old performance from the Beach Boys' Concert), but one cannot expect even a genius comedy act to act with 100% accuracy, and besides, these nuances reflect personal tastes more than anything else. Plus, the reissue throws on a bunch of satisfactory bonus tracks, almost any of which can be used to replace any perceivable flaw.

Strong thumbs up here, but the warning has to be repeated: Tadpoles is mostly about comic ditties, and not recommended to anyone who finds himself disgusted with the likes of ʽMaxwell's Silver Hammerʼ and suchlike. At the same time, I cannot qualify it as a «letdown»: the Bonzos were simply pursuing different activities and trying on different faces, like many other people at the time — Manfred Mann, for instance, who could be seriouz jazzmen one minute and teenybop propagandists the other. Count Tadpoles as just another high point in the Bonzos' «teenybop» service book, then, but do not put down the idiom as such — not before you are able to write a song as maddeningly catchy as ʽUrban Spacemanʼ, at least. 

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