Mojo Nixon! Now there’s a guy you don’t hear about much anymore. The only reason I recall him now is that the liner notes of the Clumsy Lovers’ 2000 compilation, Still Clumsy After All These Years, mention that the Coquitlam, B.C. quintet’s first show ever was an opening slot for Mojo Nixon in Seattle way the hell back in 1993.
Maybe they’ll fly him in to open up for them in the likely event that they hold a gala ten-year anniversary concert. He’d probably be touched that they would return the favor after all these years, even if he didn’t have anything to do with picking them to open at the first show.
At any rate, in the nine years that they’ve now been together—granted, with more changes of lineup than Queen Elizabeth has changes of dowdy nighties—the Clumsy Lovers have kept both the quantity and quality of their output remarkably high. Still Clumsy After All These Years anthologizes tracks from five different albums with a good helping of unreleased material, and the resulting variety of sounds is most refreshing.
The album leads off with “Shut De Do,” a double-time number with egg shaker and hand-claps that sounds like a spiritual laid over an Irish reel with dueling banjo, guitar and fiddle. “John Henry” is an “old American song” about everyone’s favorite folk hero who isn’t going to let some newfangled steam engine show him up. Many of the tracks on Still Clumsy, in fact, are re-worked or cleverly-incorporated versions of old songs from somewhere or other. “The Boycot Set” rolls three such tunes—“Red-Haired Boy,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and “The Maid Behind the Bar” into a sweaty five-minute medley. “Nonchalant” slides a fruity quasi-ska bounce under the wallflower voice of fiddler and occasional lead vocalist Andrea Lewis, who just barely sings these lyrics: “You’re so nonchalant, you’re so matter-of-fact/You make nursery rhymes out of the abstract/Wish I was cool, wish I could relax/But you make me so crazy you’re so matter of fact.”
Lead vocals generally aren’t this band’s strong suit, but what they lack in showstopping crooning they make up for with foxy ideas.
“Charmin’ Carmen” takes “March of the Toreadors” from Bizet’s Carmen and gives it a jolly good cowpunk thrashing. “The Shakespeare Song” is an even better rewiring of what has gone before, only in this case not classical music but literature. The song distills some of the Bard’s most romantic contributions to English literature (you’ve probably seen some of them while skimming Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations) into a rather cynical song about L-U-R-V. There must be a Shakespeare convention someplace that would bestow a prize on a lyric like this: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day or maybe speak of how thy beauty is eternal and will never ever fade/Words like these like wine might woo and work upon your head/But they make me sick now ’cause they’re just a trick to bring you to my bed.” The refrain, bracketed by a gently fluttering tin whistle, dryly sums up the state of modern romance: “Shakespeare knew a thing or two, he wrote it in his rhymes/But love has lost its luster since Elizabethan times.”
I kind of prefer this gentler, more bookish aspect of the Clumsy Lovers to their more boisterous, eager-to-please side, but the Clumsy Lovers are a live band first and foremost. They do what they have to do, and it always means good fun.
The Clumsy Lovers play The Ritz this Monday, Dec. 2, at 10 PM. Cover TBA. Call 721-6731 for more information.