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by Evan Pritchard

Buy Give Yourself a Hand

Give Yourself A Hand is the 4th album from Crash Test Dummies. It is quite a departure from their previous albums. Their 3rd album, A Worm's Life, was released to considerable fanfare, because it was the follow-up to the multi-million selling album God Shuffled His Feet. A Worm's Life sold a million copies, but that's not multi-millions, so it was seen as somewhat of a disappointment.

But less fanfare may be better, because some of the fanfare about how A Worm's Life would sound was inconsistent with how it actually sounds. Specifically, it was touted as an album with big noisy guitars, which suggests a raucous, uptempo album. However, it was a remarkably slow album (read: REALLY SLOW). The songs were fine, but noticably absent were the toe-tapping type songs that appeared on God Shuffled His Feet, and their first album The Ghosts That Haunt Me.

Give Yourself A Hand is more uptempo than A Worm's Life. Not wildly uptempo, but it grooves along nicely, thank you very much. The great departure comes from Brad Roberts's voice. On most of this album, Roberts throws a curve into the songs he does. This is evident on the first single: Keep a lid on things, which features Roberts using a falsetto style, as well as speaking some of the words.

Thus, if you are expecting the baritone/bass voice heard on the first 3 Dummies's albums, you will likely be disappointed. However, the voice Roberts is famous for (the voice Joe Jackson choose to represent the deadly sin of sloth on his Heaven and Hell album) is heard on the last three songs I love your goo, Aching to sneeze and Playing dead. You may or may not like the different vocal approaches that Roberts uses. However, none of them are really out there, so the songs are quite listenable. But you should give up any desire for something resembling their earlier albums, because Give Yourself A Hand isn't like that.

Another reason it isn't like that is Ellen Reid, rather than Roberts, sings three of the songs: Just chillin', Get you in the morning and A little something. Her songs are more accessible than the ones Roberts does, because she simply sings without any unusual technique. Reid was first heard on the Dummies's version of First Noel and more recently on their cover of XTC's song Peter Pumpkinhead, which appears on the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack. Reid's vocals are good. Indeed, if Get you in the morning is not released as a single, they will have made a big mistake, because it's as good as any of the recent songs done by Vanessa Williams and the like, but unlike those songs it doesn't make me want to scream.

The lyrics on this album are all written by Roberts (Warning to parents: this Mr. Roberts likes using the "S" word), but the music is mostly co-written by Roberts and Greg Wells, who also produced the album. This is the first collaboration for Roberts, and the results are good. In the lyrics, fans will find the quirkiness that characterized the previous albums.

For example, Just chillin', sung by Reid with a jazzy feel and some nice keyboard work, is about putting off the advances of another:

I'm just chillin', I'm just hangin'
so don't be spilling your stuff on me
I'm just chillin', I'm just hangin' -- Ba-by.

Playing dead is the last song on the album and the slowest, and it features a string orchestration that is not credited on the linear notes, so maybe it was manufactured somehow, as the Dummies to my knowledge do not play any orchestral stings instruments. Here Roberts sings the role of a dog, although perhaps that's a metaphor:

You know that you could train me
You know would I sit and beg
But you think I'm just a dirty dog
That tried to hump that pretty leg

Given the poorer than expected performance of the last album, one might have expected that the Dummies would go back to what has worked in the past. But they do not. Instead, they have gone off on a very different tangent, which is brave. How well this album will do commercially is uncertain, if only because there are so many factors that go into an album's success apart from the music.

The music is all a band really has control over. Because it's such a departure from the past, this album really says "this is the way we feel now." It indicates that they are not the band you might have thought they were. Ye who enter here, abandon all preconceptions. But don't worry; it won't hurt. It might even give you a hand.

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