Monday, March 28, 2011

The Pursuit Of Happiness - Love Junk (Chrysalis, 1988)

Soon, the supercomputer known as Watson will assist professionals in the fields of finance, healthcare and telecommunications. This past February, however, the question-and-answering machine developed by IBM (I Beat Mortals) was in no mood to be helpful. Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter -- two of the greatest contestants in the history of game shows -- competed against Watson in a "Jeopardy!" exhibition match that benefited their respective charities. Though the humans' intellectual prowess on past programs had made the pair legends (not to mention millionaires!), their efforts against the computer were at the level of a clueless "Wheel Of Fortune" wheel spinner choosing an already-turned-by-Vanna White letter. With the ability to tap the buzzer in 10 milliseconds, Watson out-clicked Jennings and Rutter in 24 out of 30 Double Jeopardy questions to win the $1 million top prize. The machine's final total was a whopping $77,147, which almost doubled the combined tally of the flesh-and-blood duo. Paraphrasing a bit from "The Simpsons" ("I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords!"), Jennings accepted his second-place check ($300,000) with a chuckle. Watson wasn't completely omniscient, though. In the category of U.S. Cities, the Final Jeopardy answer read: "Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest for a World War II battle." The computer's response of "What is Toronto?" drew gasps from the IBM researchers and others in the audience. "What is Chicago?" was, of course, the question on Alex Trebek's card. As a native of Canada, the "Jeopardy!" host would've been somewhat justified to call Watson a "dumbass" at that particular moment.

The Pursuit Of Happiness weren't an airport based in a large American city, but Toronto was the launching point of the group in 1985. Piloted by Moe Berg (guitar/vocals) -- who bore a strong resemblance to The Kid Who Had A Report Due On Space from the encyclopedia adverts -- TPOH also featured Dave Gilby (drums), Johnny Sinclair (bass) and sisters Tamara and Natasha Amabile (backing vocals) in the cabin. 1986 saw the release of the band's debut single, "I'm An Adult Now," as well as a grainy video of the song filmed on the streets of TPOH's hometown. Still an unsigned act in early 1988, the group put forth another independent 45, "Killed By Love," that failed to generate the attention of the previous wax. Before inking a deal with Chrysalis Records, the Amabile sisters parted ways with TPOH and were substituted by Kris Abbott and Leslie Stanwyck. Todd Rundgren was tapped for production of Love Junk -- the band's first LP. Would the pairing be a match made in Utopia?

TR's knob-tuning on the record more than meets Moe Berg's once-stated ambition of "crossing AC/DC with ABBA." The fellas strike their tools with the force of 21 Australian lightning bolts, while Abbott and "Not Costello" Stanwyck touch all harmonious bases of said Swedish supergroup's better half. If such a hybrid scares you, there's plenty of gold for fans of Andy Partridge, Dave Faulkner, Pat DiNizio and David Lowery to pan. Re-recorded for Love Junk and again released as a single, "I'm An Adult Now" would climb to #6 on the Billboard Alternative songs chart. No matter the take, Berg's cynical look at the expected behaviors of 18-and-overs makes it a classic in the annals of modern rock. (Oxymoron, anyone?) Sample snapshots: "I can't even look at young girls anymore/People will think I'm some kind of pervert/Adult sex is either boring or dirty/Young people can get away with murder" and "I'd sure look like a fool, dead in a ditch somewhere/With a mind full of chemicals, like some cheese-eating high school boy." "Killed By Love" was also redone for the album, and the heavier mix lifts the lines. You might want to call Cupid's Crane Service to excavate its final words from six feet under, though ("My passion was your weapon/It put a blindfold on my eyes/The last sound I heard was laughter as you buried me alive"). Yo, Moe: Is that the guitar riff from INXS' "The One Thing" in your band's "Hard To Laugh"? If so, nice appropriation, man! Double kudos for the lyric, "Everyone asks you why you're so serious/'Cause your woman's got a body that would make most women delirious." Give me a Robin Scherbatsky in a Canucks sweater who'll be faithful for a week. After that, she can cheat with Ted, Barney, Rick Moranis, Dave Stieb, the Farriss brothers and you to her black heart's content. One word of caution when "Looking For Girls" like Robin and otherwise: BEWARE! ("She might be a Catholic/She might be a nurse/She might give me a child or gonorrhea or something worse/She might be a painter or a Communist, with my luck/But that's the kind of girl you really want to fuck"). "Man's Best Friend" is not an ode to a four-legged companion, but it removes the fleas from a situation that's dogged many ("Well I guess it's no secret to any of us/How I feel about you/But to live it out vicariously through him/Is the best I can do"). The Stones-like groove of "Beautiful White" balances a sweet story that's told with somewhat of a smirk ("She's got a big grey overcoat/She just dumps on a chair/But she paid a lot for those trousers/She'll handle 'em with more care").

To quote Watson's creators: "Let's build a smarter planet." One listen to Love Junk is a good start. Even if you're a "cheese-eating high school boy."

-Gunther 8544

19 comments:

Rutledge said...

Robin would have owned this tape as a teen. Barney was probably off listening to Depeche Mode.

gunther said...

...or Information Society. Yeah, Robin probably had some cool cassettes. She could've convinced me to give Tragically Hip a listen.

shawnabnoxious said...

If I had been a contestant against WATSON I would have given the answer to final JEOPARDY as "Who is John Henry?" Despite what category it was from... Good words there Gunny. I can't wait to see what you write up about SQUIRREL BAIT

gunther said...

Yeah, "John Henry" is a good, catch-all response. Squirrel Bait? Great suggestion, Shawn. I've got their CD 'round here somewhere.

shawnabnoxious said...

Gunny, I'm thinking you got every cd around there somewhere... like some sorts of sci-fi story about a room that holds everthing, you just got to look around under a few things to find it. You have the cd version of that room. Hmm. Sounds like the beginnings of a good short story... hmmm

Rutledge said...

Whereas the state of my CD collection (or lack thereof) is the makings of a good crime story.

gunther said...

Shawn, I'm missing some rather obvious stuff. I pretend to own it all, though. Josh, I'd get the chick from "NCIS" on the case. Never mind it's not a military matter...

shawnabnoxious said...

I knew a guy who transfered ALL his records to mp3s and put ALL his music on an I pod annd got rid of ALL his records and cds... I think he kept a very small amount but it still seemed crazy to me.

Last count (approx. At best)
LP 700
CD 650
7" 400
CASSETTES (LeTapes) 250

I'm not sure how life would be if I wasn't walking around them everyday. I wish I was brave enough to simplify...

gunther said...

I don't own an MP3 player. Even if I did, I'd still keep hard copies of all my music. Wow, you have a lot of cassettes. I'm down to about 45-50 in that format.

Rutledge said...

I wish I had a collection like that! That's the way to live. I'm no technophobe (I download nowadays, actually), but there's just no denying that vinyl sounds way more awesome than anything digital. I think I still have all my old vinyl. But the 1,000 CDs? Let's just say it's not safe to store valuables in your parents' basement if a close relation of yours is dating a drug addict.

shawnabnoxious said...

In the last four or so years I have majorly shyed away from records but recently have fell back in love with them... I really enjoy grabbing a glass of whiskey, grabbing a few beers and belt out whatever happens in front of a keyboard. Yeah, SOMETIMES I may ACCIDENTLY vomit all over the living room, but those times are unplanned (pretty much).

gunther said...

I'm thinking about doing an art project involving tape covers. Why didn't I have this idea when my tapes were in the hundreds in number?

Rutledge said...

As recently as early 1993, my music collection was 95 percent tapes. Not sure why I loved that format so much, but I'm guessing it had a lot to do with being able to play music in cars and not paying the extra six bucks a pop for CDs. I remember getting a boom box for my 13th birthday- that was the day I turned away from vinyl.

gunther said...

I once had a tape of Love Junk dubbed from the library's cassette copy. '92 or '93 was when I made the switch. I'm still known to get tapes from Goodwill if they're under 50 cents, though. Case in point: Green River's Dry As A Bone/Rehab Doll.

shawnabnoxious said...

Ummmm.... You mean "Le Tapes" or even "Freedom Tapes" is acceptable. I'm still listening to le tapes regularly on a Ford pick-up trucks le tape deck that only plays one speaker in 'cassette mode'

I'm waiting to see something on DIRTY SHEETS about a le tape gem....

Le waiting....

gunther said...

I reviewed an Autograph album I only have on "Le Tape." Didn't make mention of that fact, though. Maybe I'll work the angle with a Del-Lords "Freedom Tape" that's at the top of my shoebox.

Rutledge said...

Would love to tackle "Dirty" by Sonic Youth - a choice selection from the era when I was all about Les Tapes.

gunther said...

Good SY pick. I've got the two-disc set with tons of extra tracks. Cool covers of the 'Dolls and Neon Boys.

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