BEAT HAPPENING: BLACK CANDY (1989)
1) Other Side; 2) Black Candy; 3) Knick Knack; 4) Pajama Party In A Haunted Hive; 5) Gravedigger Blues; 6) Cast A Shadow; 7) Bonfire; 8) T.V. Girl; 9) Playhouse; 10) Ponytail.
Our 10-/12-/14-year old continues to grow up, and now he seems to be entering a mean streak — about half of the songs here have dark overtones, be it the bass riffs, Calvin's ever-lowering vocals, or lyrics that tend to drift into the spooky-scary corner of the absurd. Not that this is «goth» or Alice Cooper stuff, but at this point in the life of the protagonist, I'd stay away from him if you were a girl, because he is liable, you know, to drop a spider in your panties or something. "Drip my blood / Fall in love / Chew my cud / Mess my head" does not look very appetizing as a replacement for the simplistic romancing of the first two albums.
I am very much tempted to write these thirty minutes off by saying that the joke finally got too old, and that's it — on the other hand, the songs continue to be moderately catchy, and this new darker vibe counts for progress, so I guess it would be more honest to admit that by 1989 Beat Happening still had not completely outlived their initial purpose. Not that I seriously want to talk about these songs. For one thing, it's frustrating that Heather only gets to sing lead once, on the twee-cutesy ʽKnick Knackʼ, whose repetitive, but seductive and optimistic refrain of "you see a ghost, I see a halo" contrasts nicely with Calvin's gloominess — it's as if she was allowed, just once, to make a retort and used this opportunity to provide a bright, reassuring, idealistic feminine counterpoint to Calvin's dark brooding masculinity (a yin-yang role reversal!). But one song out of ten? She may not be the technically better singer of the two, but at least she's the nice one.
For another thing, what is there to talk about, really? I could mention that ʽOther Sideʼ opens the album with a melody that is very similar to Zappa's ʽWowie Zowieʼ, and that this may not be a total coincidence (Freak Out! had its fair share of intentional «childishness» as well), but other than that, well, you see, it no longer has that freshness and strangeness of approach — it sounds more serious than anything they've done before, enough to dispel the aura of «innocent young teen delightfully failing in his sincere artistic inclinations», yet not serious enough to wow or stun you with its melodic potential or unique atmosphere. Honestly, I am not sure that I really need Beat Happening if I want someone to invoke me to "let's find a way to the other side" — plenty of people in the psychedelic era did this more convincingly.
Some stuff here is just plain misguided — the finger-click-accompanied ʽGravedigger Bluesʼ, for instance, sounds like an inane parody on Nick Cave; it could be funny if only the singing wasn't so terribly offkey, but as it is, it is not. ʽPlayhouseʼ finally adds an agenda of sexual innuendos to what used to be a much more chaste approach, and for that reason, also sounds more like a self-parody than a serious statement. The pseudo-surf rock ʽBonfireʼ and the pseudo-Stooges ʽPajama Party In A Haunted Hiveʼ sound more like frustratingly incomplete genre exercises than intellectual deconstructions of their respective genres — I understand that the difference is fleeting and subjective, but I just don't feel any enticing atmospherics here.
In other words, they are trying to make some progress without abandoning the core ideology, but there's only so much you can achieve when your starting capital consists of not knowing how to play or sing and not being afraid to use that lack of knowledge. Think of Black Candy as the band's "We wet our beds, but we want to be Jim Morrison!" record or something — maybe that'll help. At least it's nice to know that it is still no longer than thirty minutes.