Eye Music Magazine April 28 1994
Written By Jason Anderson
Blame Your Parents is probably the finest dumb rock song not by the Amboy Dukes to include the phrases “existential vacuum” and “super-ego suckling genocide.” Quite an achievement, really, especially as the first song on a band’s sixth album. By album No. 6 the options are usually limited to a double-live album or something involving CD-interactive technology and pornography. 54-40 have never been that predictable.
Maybe the only surviving outfit from Vancouver’s post-punk days (most bands were hunted down for food by enraged West Vancouverites), at their best they matched punk energy with intelligence, loud guitars and just enough “whoa-whoa” lyrics to fill hockey arenas. Travelling the usually troubled route through the Canadian music industry, by 1990 they were in major-label limbo, having produced a few great albums (Set The Fire, 54-40, Show Me) and one not-so-great (Fight For Love). 1992’s Dear Dear, a solid, high-quality Canadian Rawk Album, put them back in the game with “Nice To Luv You,” “She La” and a vaguely prog-rock, Old Skool AOR vibe. But it’s successor is something else- Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret is pure looney toons.
Not to say that they’ve lacked a sense of humour until now (although on their recorded works, you could). But the weight of the world has slipped off Neil Osborne’s shoulders, the occasionally beleaguered metaphors put in storage and he and his boys are ready to kick some ass, Sherlock.
From the right-side-of-sloppy “Blame Your Parents,” to the pissed-off-at-something “Assoholic,” to the crunchy extravaganze of “Lucy,” “Beyond The Outsider” and “Don’t Listen To That” (making Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret the first rock album I’ve heard this year that doesn’t die in the middle), the blessed sound of crashing guitars dominates, the band tight as a duck’s butt (bear with me). Smart and stupid, they’ve never sounded this much fun, this eager to “help you breeze through the blank generation and the moral whores.” All the while, crazed production, fucked-up vocals, even mock-techno keep up the pivotal entertainment value.
But by the time of the funny-sweet-sad “Friends End,” nothing will have prepared you for Smilin’ Buddha’s deranged “What Buddy Was” and it’s cunning use of the kind of groove made famous by white British guys in rock bands circa 1983- OK, so maybe they’re not Ween, but as experiments go, it works, with Osborne’s voice going all weird and the guitars squealing like stuck pigs. It encapsulates the album’s spontaneity- from a band that has occasionally vacationed in the Land of Plod, this is the stuff of divine intervention. Next to this, the closer, “Save Yourself,” seems suitably heroic.
54-40 were a band I thought I’d figured out, but Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret opens a whole new bag of tricks. Enjoy.