Here’s a good one, TimBuk 3 Greetings From TimBuk 3. Pat and Barbara MacDonald, a husband and wife team burst straight outta Madison, Wisconsin and into young 1537’s heart in 1986 with ‘The Future’s so Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades’. I loved that single then and I love it just as much now; come on the video has a mule carrying a TV set in it – what more do you need?!
The music and instrumentation is great, guitar, harmonica and a beat box, teamed with a deadpan delivery. Maybe I’m an unrealistic optimist but I still just can’t believe that people took this track at face value and didn’t see the irony here – it just drips with the stuff! Maybe, like they add a smell to natural gas to protect people from leaks, they should inject irony with a colour, possibly an iridescent electric blue, so stupid folks can recognize it too. Just an idea.
I picked up Greetings From TimBuk 3 about five years later when I found it cheap on a rare deviation from buying Rainbow and Cats In Boots LPs, probably because, hey!, it had a mule carrying a TV set on the cover. What can I say? I’m an easily pleased sort of guy who knows what he wants. It’s the reason I’m such an incredible success, at like, absolutely everything and stuff.
The good news is that this really wasn’t just a one song LP, there are some great tracks here and some particularly good melancholic stuff. ‘Life is Hard’ is a good example of the latter, the opening verse was mucho greato,
Betty’s in a wet T-shirt, feeling foolish and vain
Looking like some house cat that got caught out in the rain
Staring into the mirror at this less-than-pretty picture
Feeling ten years older now, and fifty bucks richer
I just love that and the downbeat view of the whole song that whatever you get/got you pay for somehow. It fits my twin desire for smart-ass wordplay and abject pessimism; oh and mules carrying TVs. The flippant ‘Hairstyles and Attitudes’ doesn’t do it for me, you’re far better off heading off for the Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom track of the same name in my view. ‘Facts About Cats’ is a good one though, sung by Barbara M it’s a thinly-veiled parent’s warning about the world and the fear of children spreading their wings; or at least that’s my interpretation, it may just actually be about cats eating birds.
Best of all though, well on a par with ‘The Future’s …’ anyway is the rather beautiful and heartfelt ‘I Need You’. It treads a well-judged route, past rote sentimentality mostly through Pat M’s vocals and the gentle music, the guitar has a sound which teeters between The Police on one hand and South African Township jive on the other. Truly.
There are fewer riches on Side B, but there are some good ones. I’m not keen on ‘Shame On You’ and it’s too 80’s Tom Tom Club-style rapping but I love the doom-laden ‘Just Another Movie’ and it’s far-too-wordy-yet-ace-lyrics,
Presidential elections are planned distractions
To divert attention from the action behind the scenes
like a game of chess when the house is a mess
Or a petty money squabble when your marriage is in trouble
Or a football game when there’s rioting in the streets
I’m also a sucker for the various broadcasts and police messages going off in the background during the song, always been a real sucker for that. Ditto ‘I Love You in the Strangest Way’, another sweet but not-cloying love song that ends the LP.
There’s not a great deal more to say really, TimBuk 3 were a bit of an anomaly, clever lyrics, gentle but interesting backing and not a single solitary screaming guitar solo to be heard. Much as I’m not a fan of the era as a whole, Greetings From TimBuk 3 is the sort of LP that could only have come out of the pop scene then, when it was still possible to make a bit of a splash just by writing a really, really good single and following it up with a good album. Okay so there’s some filler lurking here along with a few 1980’s production quirks that I could live without, but overall this is a really good understated record that hits a certain mood for me very well.
Oh, and there’s a cool mule carrying a TV on the cover.