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Class ?

Main Category: Smart Pop
Also applicable: Dance Pop, Funk/R'n'B
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of an Oingo Boingo fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Oingo Boingo fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1981
Overall rating =

If you thought funny, smart, AND musically challenging social lashing didn't exist back then... well, think again.


Track listing: 1) Little Girls; 2) Perfect System; 3) On The Outside; 4) Capitalism; 5) You Really Got Me; 6) Only A Lad; 7) What You See; 8) Controller; 9) Impostor; 10) Nasty Habits.

The world is welcome to savour this first full-fledged - heck, STALLION-natured even! - LP of Oingo Boingo. It's funny to realize that such an artificially "manufactured" band could have established such a unique style on its very first 'independent' album, but after all, Danny Elfman and his colleagues had quite a bit of time to spend together and to gel in the Seventies, and they had every occasion to work out this unique style over the course of several years when they were actually left to themselves.

That style as evidenced on Only A Lad begs for an obvious connection - the Sparks! Oingo Boingo, without a doubt, were the Sparks of the Eighties (more than the Sparks themselves, actually, judging by the Mael' brothers decline in that decade), combining the triple punch of (a) innovative, bizarre, unpredictable music elements, (b) lyrical/vocal goofiness and self-conscious idiocy, and (c) a bit of serious social comment and serious artistic vision underneath all the comic eccentricity. Perhaps the music was not exactly revolutionary, because, after all, in terms of notes and their handling Oingo Boingo did jump on the wagon pioneered by the Cars and Devo; but they added a whole new dimension to it.

I'll tell you what - it's probably impossible to remain unmoved by Only A Lad; you'll either love it or hate it. Take, for instance, the band's frivolous deconstruction of 'You Really Got Me'; it's obvious that some people will be totally appalled by it, while the others will actually be converted to Boingoism from the very first minute. I know I certainly was, because the weird rhythms, the nerdy synth chucking, the ridiculously out-of-place brass, the exuberant talk-box encoding, the cute cheesy backing vocals ('you really got...' 'MEEEE-EEEE!' [the latter sung in a super sweet falsetto]), and especially Danny's jerky vocal delivery, as if he were suffering from severe speech impediment ('yougamesoadunnuwoedoidoidoidoidoin...') are totally unbeatable. If you don't get into this track, then Oingo Boingo is plain not for you. If you do get into this track, read on.

Of course, most of the songs are originals, and cute originals at that. Chuggin' dated synths (amusingly dated, as opposed to annoyingly dated, if you know what I mean), nerdy guitar riffs that hickily alternate Chuck Berry with Tony Iommi with David Byrne with whoever comes by the door, undeniably catchy vocal melodies, and all of this topped by Elfman's overexaggerated vocal gymnastics (I'd say he inherited those from Andy Partridge, but in this respect he actually managed to beat the master at his own game - maybe because Elfman's goofiness actually makes sense whenever it materializes, whereas for Andy it's practically his normal, everyday singing intonation).

What makes me actually throw on an extra half-point or so (not to be confused with half-pint, although certain sorts of alcoholic beverages certainly go hand in hand with Oingo Boingo) is the realization that behind all this goofiness we actually often have serious statements. Many of the songs betray Elfman's somewhat uniquely-shaped political stance at the time - while an absolute majority of the rockers usually exhibit leftist sentiments in their work (well, they're supposed to represent the salt of the earth, aren't they?), Oingo Boingo keep shifting to the right, even if this has nothing to do with the basic elements of political conservatism as we know it.

Take the title track, for instance. Not only does it boast an unbeatable melody, from the opening short punkish guitar outbursts to the wonderful resolution of the vocal melody in the chorus, but it's also the first song I know which mercilessly trashes the "crime is naught but a product of an unjust society" ideology - telling the story of a guy acquitted of murder because "he's underprivileged and abused/Perhaps a little bit confused". The final 'Hey there Johnny boy, I hope you FRY!' that Danny throws out hits harder than anything else on here. And, in fact, only the most principial, the most double-dyed liberal could disagree with the message of the song - that's the kind of conservatism I could really have an understanding for. Besides, it's hard to resist when this kind of propaganda is conducted so subtly and with so much humor, both musical and lyrical (something that the average conservative - or liberal, come to think of it - guy usually lacks).

Elsewhere, you have 'Capitalism', Elfman's equally angry condemnation of the entire left wing: "You're just a middle class, socialist brat/From a suburban family and you never really had to work/And you tell me that we've got to get back/To the struggling masses (whoever they are)". Can't disagree with that, either - take this, Mr Chomsky, and stick to syntactic structures! (Disclaimer, in order to avoid angry political commentary on the site: I am absolutely not in favour of generalizing the sentiments and opinions expressed in this track - but then again, I'm pretty sure neither is Elfman himself. The song is truly not so much pro-capitalist as it is anti-windbag). Musically, it's not the best song on here, but I'll still take it over most hardcore punk - speaking of which, the song displays just as much and even more rollickin' energy than your average punk rock outfit, too. Watch them friggin' rightists fight the enemy with its own tools!

Of course, none of the anti-leftist sentiments prevent the band from dedicating other songs to ridiculing totalitarian regimes, like in 'Perfect System', or constructing a world of paranoia and fear similar to that of the Kinks ('Controller'). 'Controller' in particular is flabbergastingly imposing, with Elfman throwing a virtual fit over the course of the song's fast, equally paranoid tempo. Check out the way he "unrolls" his vocals: 'I got to run, I got to run, I got to run, might be the catcher, or the controller, can't be too careful! I TAKE PRECAUTIONS! THEY'RE VERY CLEVER! I GOT TO RUN!'. Nor does it prevent Oingo Boingo from unwrapping their goofy sexism either, as in the ultra-catchy 'Little Girls' (which ends up with the protagonist getting it on with an underage client by mistake - 'isn't this a dream come true? ISN'T THIS A NIGHTMARE TOO?'), or in the ending number, 'Nasty Habits', which is all its title implies. Is it mere coincidence, by the way, that 'Nasty Habits' has Eastern-sounding elements (including a few gypsy ones) to it? Could we imply that "nasty habits" are subconsciously being associated with Eastern people? Should we slash Oingo Boingo for racism, alongside their sympathies for capitalism, conservatism, and pedophilia? Some probably could. But does anybody remember laughter?

I can't really complain about anything on here. I do worry about the lack of - whatchamacallit - "well-defined instrumental melodies" (relative lack, too - meaning some of the songs don't register properly, like 'What You See', for instance), but truthfully, Oingo Boingo songs are like little theatric pieces rather than just collections of crafted hooks. The humor, the sparkle, the gas of it all really puts Only A Lad in a special category; the only other album I'd put on the same shelf from the same epoch would be Frank Zappa's You Are What You Is, funny enough, coming from quite the opposite end of the political spectrum, but in a way, struggling for and achieving the exact same goals.



Year Of Release: 1982

Well, so much for right wing complacency. This album's chock-full of establishment bashing, condemnation of brain washing procedures, ridiculing the corrupted ways of society, and pumping up Danny Elfman's ego in mammoth-sized puffs. But who cares if the songs are that good?

I mean, seriously, has anybody thought of marrying ominous Sabbath-like guitar riffs with mechanic robotic synth-pop and goofy lyrics? 'Insects' uncannily steals its main riff from Sabbath's 'The Wizard' (well, okay, it's just a couple of chords, but fact is that they do coincide), milking it on the verses, then goes right into the dancey chorus, and just take a listen to all those buzzing insect-imitating synthesizers. It's guaranteed to make you laugh your pants down. 'These insects make me wanna dance!' Really! It's a true gem in the band's collection, it normally takes a McCartney or at least a Mael brothers collaboration to come up with such a brilliantly shaped, delightful piece of nonsense.

However, leave nonsense alone, in general, this album makes a lot of sense. 'Grey Matter' opens the album with a wrathful battlecry, as Elfman takes his cue from Ray Davies' 'Braiwashed' and creates his own manifesto in favour of independent, unbiased thinking. Here's another great synth-pop song that shows there was a 'this is rock music, after all, with a big R' side about the genre in the early Eighties, so don't necessarily associate the thing with Rio. 'Private Life' boasts a glossy optimistic melody, but the lyrics are again as paranoid as possible, so that you can't even understand if Danny is defending his private life or complaining about it. And 'Wild Sex (In The Working Class)' is equally ambivalent - is this a celebration of the "working class lust" or an ironic take on it? I guess with Oingo Boingo, the answer is both yes and no, and possibly 'uh, I dunno' as well.

Apart from 'Insects', though, I guess the album itself, while just as amazingly consistent as its predecessor, offers only one true classic for the ages - the raging, hysterical, intoxicatingly funky 'Nothing To Fear (But Fear Itself)'. Boy, what a great song that one is. The lyrics sheet alone, with its Cold War images and its use of pedophilia as the allegory for society degradation in general, probably won't make much of an impression on their own, but when taken in the context of the chorus, they're magnificent. That chorus? That perfect build-up? With the funky guitars and the swirling wailing synths and Danny's voice rising higher and higher and then it all crashes down in a wild-voiced 'Temperature starting to drop now, temperature starting to drop!' climax. That's pretty ecstatic.

Not that any other selections are bad. (Not that I really needed this sentence... must control all the "not that" I seem to put out at random. Not that it really matters anyway). I guess some of the other songs are rather 'ordinary' as far as true Boingoism is concerned. Well, for instance, 'Running On The Treadmill' is just a usual synth-pop song, unless you think the use of real brass in a synth-pop song is something extraordinary. But it's a good synth-pop song, with a nice, even endearing, atmosphere to it, and a catchy chorus to boot. Which proves, once and for all, that Oingo Boingo are good songwriters, and have a fine-tuned pop sensibility; it's not just the synth-imitated buzzing insects or Elfman's vocal hysterics or the funny lyrics that do all the trick.

They even try their hand at some New Romantic-inspired starry-eyed sentimental pop-rockers, like 'Islands', but I really can't say I dig Oingo Boingo much when they're in Duran Duran mood, even if Steve's guitar work on this track is better than the guitar work on all the Duran Duran albums combined. These meticulous double-tracked riffs in the mid-section are really amazing, as is the sax break; but Danny's "soulful" vocals on the track keep me puzzled about whether he's being serious or not, and whatever be the answer, it doesn't work anyway. He's great when he's angry, or when he's playing an idiot, but hardly when he's going for an epic delivery. Let this band exorcise its pretentions in different ways.

Like, for instance, on the album closing number 'Reptiles And Samurai'. Ha! Now here's a great song. I have no idea what it's about (and seems like neither does anyone else), but the comparison between the two seems like one hilarious idea anyway, especially when you have that overdubbed goofy vocal explaining the differences in an encyclopaedic way. Maybe it's a parody on shock-rock. Maybe not. But the synth-guitar pairings rule, and you gotta love that glottal twist that Danny takes each time he chants 'reptiles and samura-'-a-'-aii!'. All in all, Nothing To Fear about this record, really! Forgive the relative weakness of one or two songs, compensate for it with the absolute timelessness of 'Insects' and the title track, and you're all set.



Year Of Release: 1983

In a fit of blind folly, the All-Music Guide gave this album two stars, then kinda made up for it in the more compromised review, but they're assholes all the same. This is the Oingos at their most consistent so far, with nary a clunker in sight and sharp, concentrated, intelligent songwriting around every corner. True, it doesn't progress much over the previous two albums, but overall the songs are better - it's a clear-cut case a la The Doors/Strange Days debate. In fact, I think I'll go over this song by song, even if it's hardly cool to do that.

No better opening for such a great album than the rip-roaring 'Who Do You Want To Be', another crisp condemnation of the brainwashing procedures, this time with a particular knocking out of the whole showbiz thing: 'Who do you want to be today, do you wanna be just like someone on TV?' the band gloomily asks you in the chorus, while Danny's hysterical delivery again puts him level - and I'd even say higher than - the best o' the punk crew. Add to this the frantic tempo, the wonderful brass riffs, and the steady unnerving rhythm section, and here's another classic for you.

'Good For Your Soul' could be a failure because, like I already said, "soulful" stuff is not Boingo's ticket, but this one has a nice rhythm and a memorable synth line carrying it (which actually comes in contrast with the song's overall gloomy atmosphere by sounding uncannily cheerful - kind of like a Cars melody within a Joy Division arrangement!), so there's no problem. Danny's rapping on the funky, sweaty 'No Spill Blood' is just as impressive as he offers his hilarious interpretation of the arisal of civilization - and the song is made by some totally mad guitar playing as well. The madness is then carried on unto the "tribal" bit 'Cry Of The Vatos', which to my ears sounds like a successful parody on all the world beat stuff that was happening around at the time. Perhaps a real lengthy number consisting of ethnic percussion, isolated brass riffs, and lots of overdubbed "monkey screaming" noises might have been grating, but at just over two minutes, 'Cry Of The Vatos' really does it for me. Hey David Byrne, eat your heart out!

'Fill The Void' is half-reggae, half-synth-pop, merging the verses with the chorus seamlessly, while the lyrics seem to deal with the problems of stardom (again), with Danny pleading 'what do they want from me?' as the song's main hook. The song might not be timeless, but I still beg you to pay attention to that transition - as subtle and smooth as perhaps only the Police could have made it. Then (just watch the sequencing of this album - no two same-sounding songs in a row! Diversity cooks!) back to paranoia, with the fast 'n' frantic rocker 'Sweat' that recalls earlier stuff like 'Controller' but has a different melody, where Steve's guitar melody again makes the song.

The second side opens with the closest these guys had ever come to a true hit, 'Nothing Bad Ever Happens To Me', a song which again touches upon a rarely exploited lyrical topic (indifference at the sight of trouble that happens to people around you) and features one of the most elaborate synth-pop arrangements on the album, even if it's nowhere near as furious and ravaging as 'Who Do You Want To Be'. But the vocals are great, the falsetto backing vocals are fun, the guitar and synth interplay is cool and professional, and hey, what do you want from me? Ridicule the band's biggest hit? No way!

The band's anti-utopian fetish again rears its head on the Depeche Mode-like 'Wake Up (It's 1984)', and it works well; maybe the "darkness" these guys are evoking is overtly theatrical, but hell, so is David Bowie's, for instance. It's not so much threatening as it is fun. Just as the mock-horror 'Dead Or Alive', with yet another of Danny's trademark hysterics as he imitates stepping into the shoes of Alice Cooper. Funniest lyrical quote ever: 'I remember there was a time/When dead and buried meant just that/Underneath the cold dark ground/Things stay put!'.

'Pictures Of You' is dark and goofy as well, but this time in a more Goth-like mood, carried by a nice little chimy synth pattern and highlighted by Danny's Robert Smith impersonation - 'in da-arkness...'. Okay, maybe not Robert Smith, this is way too dorky-sounding to look like true Robert Smith. Finally, 'Little Guns' ends the record with another fast fast fast popper that seems to start out like an ode to tin soldiers but then quickly transforms into another cartoonish nightmare - 'what do they want? what do they want? - They want you... YOU... YOU YOU YOU!' The subtle cabaret elements in the song can't be overlooked either - check out the "dancey" instrumental section with the hot sax break, it's friggin' genius.

Simply put, this is the most impressive sequence of eleven songs in a row ever recorded by these guys. Maybe only two songs ('Who Do You Want To Be' and 'Nothing Bad Ever Happens To Me') carry some sort of serious, significant social message (and they also happen to be the two best ones), but even if Elfman's social comments are important for a true understanding of the band, you still gotta appreciate the goof-off side of the band to really like them, and no other album has them goofing off in a better manner.



Year Of Release: 1985

In a fit of blind folly, the All-Music Guide gave this album four and a half stars, then proceeded to rave about it some more in the despicably short and lameass review. Boo! Without a doubt, this is Oingo Boingo's biggest stinker so far.

Mm, well, maybe I just don't get something. Some people claim that with this album, the Boingos got more "mature" and "serious", dropping the goofy 'juvenile' kitsch of the previous three records and concentrating on more profound lyrical issues and less absurdist melodies. Whatever. I would rather join the group of people that claim that with this album, the Boingos simply sold out, pure and simple. Wanna take a guess why several of the songs off the album were big hits, and actually made the Oingos almost a household name for some time? The answer's right before you baby. This sounds more like a Duran Duran record than an Oingo Boingo record. Tricky time signature changes? Gone. Spooky, off-setting weirdness? Nadah nadeeh. Elfman's unnerving vocal tricks? Replaced by a normal smooth delivery that's not bound to offset one sensitive soul.

In the place of all that, you get yourself a bunch of simple, generic synth-pop that certainly follows the Simon LeBon pattern - focus all your attention on the chorus, toss in a half-interesting riff now and then and you got yourself a formula that won't theoretically run dry for millions of years. Now granted, the actual songs on the album are okay. There's certainly enough creativity in the proceedings, and Elfman wouldn't be Elfman if he hadn't put his brass section and his keyboard player to good use. It's just that almost every single song yields the impression of somebody lightly tapping Danny over the shoulder and saying, 'hey man, you can work chart wonders with your band, whatcher doing out there wasting time on that sarcastic post-modernistic idiocy? We could be making big bucks with 'em horns here! You got a gift, man!'. And that's how it goes.

It's funny that the only song that recalls the classic Oingo Boingo of old on here is tacked on at the very end - yup, that would be 'Weird Science', the long goofy Frankenstein-epic which betrays all the excellent trademarks of the band. Funky, chuggin', with terrific percussion and bass, synth effects to boot, Danny switching from "menacing" in the verses to "screaching" in the chorus, that's all very well. It actually rocks better than all the other so-called "rockers" on the record. And it was also released as a single, but I betcha anythin' you'd hear it less on the radio than 'Just Another Day'.

Too bad I ain't in a supah-negative mood, or I'd bash the other eight songs to chunks. I won't do that, because once you've acknowledged the fact that Danny Elfman is a gifted composer, you'll have to come to terms with the fact that even when he puts his gift to absolute shit use, it's still a gift. Yeah, I mean, the chorus to 'Just Another Day' is strong, isn't it? Definitely so. But what's up with the general mood? A serious song with no tongue-in-cheek aura around it? Elfman exorcising his paranoia? 'There's razors in my bed that come out late at night'? Sorry, no dice, friend. Once a clown par excellence, always a clown par excellence, and I won't be taking this bullshit from Danny any more than I'd be taking it from Simon LeBon. There's not a teeny-weeny ounce of sincerity that comes across to me from that delivery. It just sounds like a probe for top 10 material.

Same with the title track. Is it bad? For heavens no. Look for the grimey bassline. Look how the ringing guitars ascend and descend after each sung line. Look how they get caught up by the brass section in all the appropriate places. But does it have any classic Oingo Boingo charm? This is where you get fokked, brothers and sisters. It's not enough to merely get a hook inside your song, you should make sure this hook is a strong one, drawing some kind of emotional response from the listener. I remain untouched by Danny's newly found seriousness. Absolutely.

Musically, the best song on here after 'Weird Science' is probably 'No One Lives Forever', with its Slavic brass lines and Eastern guitar flourishes and all the weird synth chuckling and tinkling and all the heavy guitar-scrapin' that takes place in between. I guess that one also has the old Boingo spirit living inside it, after all. And it's the only two songs that actually left an impression in me upon the third listen. Seriously now, I don't wanna pour shit on a good composer, so I'm not giving it a piss-poor rating, but really, I don't know why I should ever listen to it in the first place - if I wanna listen to this kind of music, I'll throw on Duran Duran's Rio instead. At least that one isn't such an enormous disappointment when you put it in context.


BOI-NGO ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1987

I actually think this one is marginally better than its predecessor, and the "margin" in question is indeed important; essentially, I could imagine myself listening to Boi-ngo some other time, whereas I could care less if Dead Man's Party just entirely disappeared off the face of the planet. On the conceptual end of the biz, Elfman is still being way too serious here, with annoying preachy stuff like 'New Generation' telling the same ideas that he used to tell in a flashy and hilarious way in his earlier songs in a predictable and boring way now. But even so, Boi-ngo is notably lighter and tongue-in-cheekier than its predecessor. And almost half of the songs actually do try to recapture the unimitable goofy vibe of old, whether they succeed at it or not.

And the record is definitely not interchangeable with Duran Duran this time. They're back to their "New Wave funk" vibe of old, with melodies based on strong brass riffs and chuggin' chucklin' funky guitar and all. Unlike the previous record, you don't just sit in vain here and wait for the vocal hook to come on (and then it may come on and may not come on, too!). You actually have melodies all to yourself - maybe not too memorable, but at least hummable and, you know, lively or something. Maybe too samey in places, though: I swear I hear the same generic 'ching-a-ling-a-ling-a' funky guitar ring all over the place.

Put it this way: the album is very even and very professional, and contains no timeless classics but no instantly forgettable tunes either. Perhaps the closest thing to a classic is the closing number, 'Pain', whose bombastic chorus - 'and soak up... soak up... soak up lots of pain yeah!' - is the record's strongest hook, not to mention that it's the only song to combine a hook with a powerhouse rhythm and that great feeling you get when you realize how unstoppable Elfman and Co. are when they are really pissed off at something. Besides, there's this cute, totally unpredictable violin popping up between verses as if they were having Jean-Luc Ponty guesting on the song or anything - how cool is that?

All the other 'tongue-in-cheek' songs are also acceptable. Not genius, but then again Slash was the only major genius in the Eighties, according to Guitar Player magazine, and that's a different story. 'Elevator Man' isn't genius but it's danceable in the best way that a... a... say, a Prince song can be danceable, and you can't get away from the exquisite METAPHOR in the song title! And 'Outrageous', too, don't forget 'Outrageous'. For some reason, I keep thinking of Prince again, although the keyboard tone on the song should be rather compared to the Cars. The best thing about the song is still the chorus - 'outrageous things are going to happen to me' is just as perfect a vocal resolution for it as anything. And once again Elfman grunts and raves and yells and yelps, just like in the good old days. So can we finally say the boys brought the fun back?

Not quite. The already mentioned 'New Generation' is certainly no big "fun" to listen to. Rather it's a self-important message Elfman sends out to everybody out there - to stop following brainwashing trends and patterns and find oneself in the everyday melee. But can you get away from the excellent metallic guitarwork on the track? Not really; not until the song crosses the four-minute mark, at least. Still, much better is 'My Life', which holds my nomination for 'Best Serious Sounding Song' in the band's entire career. And I don't even mean Danny's delicious falsetto delivery on the verses: what I mean is the stupendous chorus, which just has something particularly attractive to it. Now will everybody please stop breathing for a couple minutes while I concentrate on what it could be.

Okay, I think I'm ready - I think the way they sing 'hey yeah my life has come unraveled again...' and so on is one of those rare occasions where something really meaningful and deep (for the artist, I mean) is formally expressed with a suitably deep and bombastic musical arrangement, but actually comes across sounding as muted and humble. In other words, it's trying to tell something really important in a really important way but at the same time camouflaging the importance so that it doesn't sound too self-important. I'm sure everybody got me this time, right? I wouldn't want to write a book on the song, good as it is.

I believe I haven't mentioned some other usual "highlights" like 'Home Again' and 'Where Do All My Friends Go', so due to lack of overtime you have to take my humble word that they're really okay. There's good rhythmics here, nice use of brass... it's not seriously better than stuff like 'Just Another Day', but overall and in general and on the whole and all around the bend and up until civilization's end there's more of an edge and more excitement to the album than there is to its much lamer predecessor. That said, something tells me Oingo Boingo would never write anything as good as 'Insects' again.



Year Of Release: 1990

This album gets three stars from me. Three stars is all that it gets. And let me tell you what three stars mean. There are bad records made in the rock business. This is not one of them. There are great records made in the rock business. This is not one of them either. There are really good records thrown out from time to time. No cigar again. Then you have really really mediocre albums you can't enjoy but you can't really put the foot down upon. Not this case.

This is the "newspaper album" case. Let me tell you this - no three-star album is guaranteed to survive within the period of the next hundred years. That's what my belief is. These records are like friggin' newspapers. You read it, you get your dose of useless information, then you discard it. Are there good songs on the Oingo Boingo 1990 album? Yeah, seems like it. Who are these songs for? Goofy Elfman aficionados who would probably be better off spending their money on the latest Sierra adventure game instead but wouldn't really know anything about it. Am I a goofy Elfman aficionado? Are you a goofy Elfman aficionado? Do you ever stop to wonder that there's only so many precious seconds to one's life, and wasting them on a mediocre Oingo Boingo record is a mistake and all?

The only thing that saves me from the inevitable suicidal tendency is the realisation that the chaff is inescapable even if I make a conscious decision to not review any album that doesn't make it at least up to a three-and-a-half-star rating. Hell, even computers make useless moves from time to time; what's to be expected from an entity as logically imperfect as a human? So spare me this rambling and this review just as you can spare Danny Elfman this piece of plastic that will certainly not survive in time. Maybe Oingo Boingo will, I dunno. They're way too much tied to their particular epoch to be truly enjoyed a hundred years from now on, of course, but at least they had lots of that magic stuff called "personality", and God knows if anybody a hundred years from now on will have personality.

Anyway, as the layoff periods get longer and longer, so the music gets more and more predictable. Boi-ngo, I thought, was a moderate rebound, but with this record they kind of lapse back into the coma. Again, too many of the songs are way too serious, too many of the songs are way too unhumorous, and the overall sound is as formulaic as anything. There are no truly bad numbers - I mean, it's hard to expect a truly bad number from Elfman unless he starts penning power ballads or adopting Phil Collins' manners of album production - but are there any classics?

Nope, not really. Or maybe I just never bothered to notice. Okay, 'The Long Breakdown' strikes me as the closest thing to a classic on here - but maybe only because the chorus just so fits in with the gradual creative demise of the band. The opening riff is cool enough (too bad it just goes away after a couple bars), but it's the depressing 'the looooong, looooong, looooong, loooooong, looooong breakdown...' refrain that kind of falls into place just perfectly. I mean, of course the song is not about the band, but I just can't help feeling they're decrying their own decline here, even if by all means they are not. In any case, whatever be, that line is just perfectly sung. But it's just one line.

Oh well, at least more than half of the songs feature decent energy levels. Lots of rollicking all over the place, and getting you to tap your toes and all. 'Run Away (The Escape Song)' is ska taken to the extreme, with clever atmospheric vocal overdubs and a good sax solo. But would it stand a chance against 'Who Do You Want To Be'? Not one in a million. 'When The Lights Go Out' is a decent electronic funker, with immaculate production, as usual - but it really gets old after you remember the guys did the same thing so much better with 'Nothing To Fear' more than half a decade ago.

Look, it's ridiculous. I could praise every song on here if I wanted to. There's a tiny bit of something good in every one of them. Does anyone even remember 'Glory Be'? Probably not. But why? There's a cool sax riff in there between the verses. There's a subtle McCartney-esque intonation in the 'they follow me, they follow me' refrain. But who needs it? Who needs it when you can have the Lemonheads instead? Who needs the catchy structure of 'Right To Know' when it actually rips off a more or less standard pop melody - in the verses at least? Who needs the band doing by-the-book boogie on 'Try To Believe'? Goofy Elfman aficionados. Too bad. Fuck the fuckin' context in which every record has to be taken.

It's - I'm serious - records like these that really aggravate me. If there's a LOT of talent, then the album is great and that is that. If there is NO talent, then the album is shit and we'll leave it be. But what about those situations, when there definitely is talent, but there just ain't enough of it to tip the scale? There's nothing I hate more than a useless waste of talent. You know how much talent went down the drain over the last forty years? And more than that? Geez. Ah well. Don't buy this album unless you're a completist. Better a waste of talent than a waste of your time.



Year Of Release: 1994

Not to be confused by Boi-ngo by all means: the ratings might be almost the same, but these are sure two different records. Actually, this one doesn't even bear the "Oingo Boingo" moniker, just "Boingo", as if it were a different band - and in a way, it is. It is also the group's last studio offering before Danny started concentrating exclusively on his soundtracks. And as a swansong, it's a weird and curious offering.

What it seriously suffers from is length. Goddammit! Blast the CD age to hell! Ten songs on here ('Tender Lumplings' should merely be treated as a tiny introduction to 'Change', right?), running for seventy-three minutes - and it's not like these are mammoth prog epics or something, they're just long. Long, as in "never knowing when to stop". Danny's got a lot to say on here, and he wants all the sax and guitar solos to be out there by all means, too, and he also wants the songs to have groove potential - so, you know, it's true, if you have to have (a) a verse-and-chorus structure and (b) professional instrumental sections and (c) monotonous danceable grooves, all within one song, the average length of the song will be six to seven minutes, and that's what we got here. Considering that there are no truly amazing classics, that's a tough job going through this stuff in one sitting.

Yet at least the songs are all good. And that's nice to know considering Elfman never really goes back to the "classic" years - the vibe on here is certainly the same as on Dead Man's Party and from then on, that is, serious songs with a heavy dose of preachiness and a light dose of sardonic humour (occasionally). However, there's more diversity on here overall, and there are some important new elements introduced, the main of these being, strange as it is, a sort of faux-Sixties flavour. Not only does the band symbolically cover 'I Am The Walrus' - the quintessential psychedelic song - but they also do a fifteen-minute "acid suite" ('Change'), replete with all the obligatory trappings of the era, and insert flowery poppy overtones into several other compositions as well.

I have no idea what was the inspiration for this (most certainly Oingo Boingo never looked like retro guys before); maybe Danny spent too much time listening to late period XTC recordings or something. In any case, while Elfman's results are certainly a lot less successful (and certainly sound a lot less authentic) than the ones of Andy Partridge, they at least manage to get the vibe right. I mean, I have a hard time memorizing any given part of 'Change', well, except for the harder rockin' one where they steal the everlovin' riff from 'Taxman', but it's wonderful while the song is there. I can almost feel that warmth spreading all over the soul, just like you feel when listening to any kind of sunny pop from the Sixties. Even the lengthy instrumental passages with backwards guitars and ethereal falsetto harmony vocals and drunken psychedelic laughter feel like home to me. Yeah! Rock on dudes!

Speaking of which, the 'I Am The Walrus' cover is also pretty good - it's interesting to hear the song rendered based exclusively on electric guitar potential, with several of those replicating all the necessary parts. Hey! Was it you the headbanger guy who complained about the lack of electric guitars on Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper? You have your problem corrected here, are you happy now? Well of course you aren't - the original still sounds better. But it's still a pretty fun rendition, and it even adds in a decent guitar solo to boot.

As for the other songs - they all range from good to very good (with the "overlong" factor unfortunately taking some steam out of each and every one), except for 'Pedestrian Wolves', which is essentially nine minutes of time-wasting. What's up with the ugly unmelodic unmemorable "riffage" on the song? And why oh WHY is it such an idiotic law that the worst song on the album has to run longer than several of the best ones combined? Did Danny subconsciously think that extra length would breathe some life into the song? Gosh, Danny, nine minutes without once changing the time signature? You sure have an exaggerated opinion of your listener. At least if that listener is me.

BUT: 'Insanity' is fabulous, right from the moody opening brass lines to the majestic coda - it's actually one of the rare cases when Oingo Boingo proved themselves capable of a truly great, shiver-sending epic without eccentric humour to back it up (and it's fun to hear Elfman bash Danny Quayle, too, seeing as how all those early Boingo records exhibited rightist views and all). 'Hey!' is a terrific exercise in subtlety: overlong for sure, but hundreds of lesser and not so lesser bands would kill for a verse-to-chorus buildup like that one. 'Mary' is a charming McCartneyesque ballad, with luvvverly string quartets and pretty, innocent folkish strumming (although nowhere near as innocent lyrics - what do you think Mary was doing away from her family?). 'Can't See (Useless)' betrays Danny's sensitive side, which we don't get too often, and it's more soulful than anything he'd done previously. The vocal harmonies of 'Lost Like This' are a true gem (unfortunately, lost a bit among the rambling orchestration and heavy lumpy riffs, but it all comes together after a while). 'War Again' is a fine slab of "slow funk", featuring some of Elfman's most vicious social satire: 'it's a shame that our kids are dumb, but our bombs are smart, what a lucky thing now...'.

Basically, this is just a fine, fine, fine piece of composing art. Clever songs, emotionally involving and all. Cut two to three minutes from almost every one (except for 'Pedestrian Wolves', which needs a nine-minute cut at least) and you got yourself five stars, easily. Obviously, it's just a case of a band consciously preparing their "final album", like Abbey Road, and making sure it's gonna be a big one. Actually, I even think Danny might have had big plans with Boingo - sure, the band might have been trying to overcome their "intellectual freak" image for the last ten years now, but this is quite clearly the most serious, and the most successfully serious, album they'd done up to that point. Of course it wasn't noticed all that much, poor release timing and all, but hopefully time will put it back in its place. In the meantime, just don't make the mistake of overlooking it.


FAREWELL ****1/2

Year Of Release: 1996

One hell of a BIG live album. Two CDs, crammed from top to bottom with thirty friggin' songs - and then there's two more on the tape if you have one (too bad that one of those two just had to be 'Nothing To Fear (But Fear Itself)'! The band's best song or nearly so, and I don't have the chance!). And this is indeed the band's farewell concert, recorded at their usual, "traditional" Halloween gig at the Universal Amphitheatre. And it rules.

For one thing, it just about totally annihilates the need for you to purchase all those so-so Boingo albums from Dead Man's Party up to the Nineties. Most of the real good songs on these albums are here, and Boingo's frantic live energy makes them all come to life in a way they themselves never experienced before. You do have to get used to the 'classic years' material getting a bit rough'n'tough, though. The magnificent production and arrangement tricks all get blown out the window - in fact, I'd say that when on stage, the Boingos are a bit too cluttered with all the heaps of instruments they have out there playing at the same time. Guitars clumsily clashing with each other, hurried brass puffs that don't fit in with the rhythm... okay, these things happen. You have to get used to them.

But the good thing is, the Boingos don't try to just reproduce the original material on stage. There's all sorts of little twists and pulls to make the live experience different. Some of the songs are radically faster - 'Who Do You Want To Be', for instance, is sped up like mad, so that I would certainly not recommend anybody to get acquainted with the song through this album, or its terrific melodic potential might escape you. A couple listens, though, and you get caught up in the fun. A lot of other songs rock much harder, with metallic guitar solos and a tremendous amount of volume. Some lengthy songs are shortened ('Change'), some shorter songs are extended, well, you know, the usual drift.

As for the setlist itself, since this was officially the last concert, the Boingos make sort of a "career retrospective", although definitely not in chronological order. Pretty much every album is represented by at least two or three numbers (with the notable exception of Dark At The End Of The Tunnel - what, did Danny like that one less than Boi-ngo?), and some by much more. They're also pretty heavy on the last record, performing about half of the songs from there; predictably, these sound more like their studio counterparts than numbers from older, more "worn out" albums, but that doesn't matter much - 'Insanity', 'Hey!', 'Mary', and 'Can't See (Useless)' are still among the best material they've come up with in years.

There's also plenty of rarities on here, too, and that includes both old rare tracks that can only be found on soundtracks and suchlike and new material written specially for the concert (I guess). Like, for instance, the crazyass 'Burn Me Up', which Danny presages by slyly remarking 'here's a little jazzy thing I wrote for you hipsters', and then he launches into the song's truly modernistic structure - plenty of atonality, lumpy noise, and "jazz-meets-industrial" atmosphere, plus Fripp-style guitar solos and what-not. Wonder what the "hipsters" were thinking to themselves. Or the funky rocker 'Water' which is driven by a mandolin of all things (unless it's just one mandolin-like string plucked on a banjo or something). Or 'Piggies' - since it comes right after the 'I Am The Walrus' cover, I was initially deluded into thinking Elfman would be trying yet another Beatles cover, but no, this is actually a pompous seven-minute epic about the adventures of a couple lobotomized youngsters which sounds much closer to Frank Zappa than to anything the Beatles ever did. The chorus is classy, too!

A tremendous live album if there ever was one, anyway, despite all the complaints. I know, I know, it's definitely not easy to sit through a whoppin' hundred and fifty minutes of live music by the same artist in a row, but Oingo Boingo are diverse, at least - can you imagine sitting through a hundred-and-fifty minute long album by, uh, say, Motorhead? I sure can't. I wish Elfman were more "conversational" (his sporadic remarks kinda hint that beyond the songs he's just as humorous a guy as he is within the songs), but that's not really a big problem. At any rate, he's done the right thing - went out and took his band out with a bang. Now he's got enough time to write all the soundtracks he wants, and with no serious stimulus to promote an Oingo Boingo reunion (as in, "our last reunion sucked! let's redeem ourselves by having one more!").


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