Brad Roberts digs weirdness. That may not seem like a thundering revelation given his propensity for calibrating the realities of enlightened mallards, listless deities, traumatized children, recalcitrant superheroes and frankly, cunnilingus, over the course of three watershed albums.
Here we are in Harlem and the Crash Test Dummies’ commander is utterly in his element as he hoofs down West 148th Street like some kind of miscreant tour guide. He gleefully points out a grandmother outfitted in her Sunday best yackety-yakking on a stoop, hauling on a cigarette. Noting a neighbor’s tawdry brownstone lovingly gussied up with silver tinsel for Christmas, he merely chuckles, turning the corner at Broadway and converging on the crazy old dude painting the ether blue with a booming wave of obscenities.
Weird, and practically a moonscape compared to Roberts’ native Winnipeg, Canada. Yet Harlem is where the bookworm baritone has chosen to throw down roots and it’s here, in deepest New York City, that the Crash Test Dummies towering, colossally ambitious fourth album, Give Yourself A Hand, took shape.
“You’ll notice pulling into this part of New York that there’s a certain energy that’s palpable,” Roberts offers. “I found myself getting up in the morning, sitting in front of my computer and saying, I’m going to write stuff that rhymes.
I gathered so much from just walking around the neighborhood. It is a very energized place that’s very foreign to me, but its attitude started rubbing off on me, such that when I sat down to write lyrics, all this stuff just spilled out of me.”
“In this one I make the momentous discovery that Elvis rhymes with pelvis. Could there possibly be a more fortuitous rhyme in all the English language?” – A Cigarette Is All You Get
OK, no sugarcoating. Here’s the straight dope. Give Yourself A Hand is a departure for the Crash Test Dummies, full of midnight rhymes, dubby interludes, graffiti-splattered lyrics, muted guitars and mondo breakbeats. So much for sticking with a formula that’s earned accolades and international success in Canada, America, England, Germany (like, hugely) and other enlightened outposts.
Give Yourself A Hand lays out a smorgasbord of surprises, and was born, in part, out of a songwriting retreat Roberts attended at a castle in France owned by music biz impresario Miles Copeland. Fast-rising, Canuck-born wunderkind Greg Wells was also at the retreat, and ended up co-writing (a first for Roberts) and co-producing the album