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Too Much Joy – Photo courtesy of Too Much Joy
If you were to assemble a Too Much Joy vision board, it might have at its center pictures of Dee Dee Ramone and Mr. Fred Rogers, two very different sorts of imagineers, each one alive forever in the hearts and heads of the five guys in this band – and in the pop cultural zeitgeist.
This duality runs strong through the band’s spirit and sound and is akin to retaining a middle school attitude in an era of adulthood. There’s a need to convey serious things in an non-serious way.
This is what Too Much Joy has been doing since 1980, when the band started in the suburbs of New York City to play some Clash covers at high school dances. Among their very first recordings was a hardcore version of a song from 1967 called “It’s a Beautiful Day” written by Mr. Fred Rogers.
The core sound of this whipsmart band of smartasses is not a sound, exactly, but a feeling. Tim Quirk (singer), Sandy Smallens (bass), Tommy Vinton (drums), Jay Blumenfield (guitar), and producer William Wittman ride the sonic waves, blasting and bouncing out melodic, acerbic, and astute power pop and indie rock singalongs.
Turning those mordant lyrics into sweeter singalongs — achieving “the Randy Newman fronting the Clash” effect that Quirk holds as an eternal quest — has always been Too Much Joy’s particular lane, viciously smart stuff that makes you laugh and think and fist pump or foot stomp.
And after a 25-year hiatus of no albums being brought forth, Too Much Joy is back with Mistakes Were Made, their stellar new full length that will see the light of day on March 19th.
The process of creating Mistakes Were Made was very different this time out because of the pandemic, and with Quirk and Blumenfield living on the West Coast, and Smallens, Vinton, and Wittman residing on the East Coast.
An early working title was Last Century, because the band started this project by recording songs they’d written in the ’90s but had never gotten around to recording. That meant digging through old rehearsal, soundcheck, and demo tapes to find gems like “Snow Day” and “Just Around the Bend” (both of which date back to 1992) and “Camper of the Year” (vintage 1994).
“But the whole quarantine thing made us want to create new music,” says Vinton, and Too Much Joy was soon writing songs from scratch. Lots of songs. The band set up a practice of recording one old song for each new one, letting the old work and new work learn from each other. At which point there was another working title: The End of Time, “as the lyrics on both old and new tunes all seemed to revolve around memory and doom,” says Quirk.
In the end, there were so many new songs that only three of the old ones made the cut. Mistakes Were Made is a loud thing, full of short bursts of adrenaline (six of the 15 songs are less than three minutes long) and more developed mission statements, like “New Memories” (about lasting relationships) “More of the Stuff I Like” (about the search for a punk rock paradise).
It should be noted that the aforementioned more developed mission statements have some of the album’s most wild guitar solos, so there will be no talk of maturity, please. Some of these songs may be old, but they are not grown up.
Standout track “Blinding Light of Love” yokes bass thunder and power chords to ideas about something (love? God? robins?) coming down from the heavens to save us from a diseased world choked by environmental, political, and social decay.
Big Takeover is mighty pleased to host the premiere of the animated music video for the searing “Blinding Light Of Love.” There are no lovey dovey sentiments here, and the song’s title is to be taken as sarcasm.
Amid the blistering barrage of slamming drum strikes, pushing bass line shadow, and scintillating to grimy guitar jags, Quirk pulls out his words from a deep well of frustration and anger.
He targetsa litany of topical problems that are plaguing us, hitting the bulls-eye on politics (he mockingly sneers “America is great again”), police overreach (“secret police in unmarked vans” ), environmental issues (“brown sludge pouring outta my sink”), and social network superficiality (poking fun at getting only 20 Facebook Likes).
He also tackles the pandemic, caustically exclaiming, “Now your disease is inside me” and “We’re afraid to go outside”, although the lyrics could also be a catch-all for everything in the world that is trying to destroy us including each other.
The animated music video mirrors Quirk’s rightful alarm with a variety of hand-drawn and -crafted images, shot through with vivid colors, bright light, and fuzzy static, and tailored specifically to the lyrics.
A truck rumbles by on the highway, spewing polluting fumes. Raging fires consume the precious natural wilderness. A doctor gives bad news to his patient. Time winds down on a ticking (doomsday) clock…
Meanwhile, vintage found footage also rolls by, focusing on two young people as they blithely dance around, oblivious of the damage wrought upon the planet by humankind’s follies and foibles.
Who, or what, will come and save us when we are the creators of our own destruction?…
Quirk reveals some details about the meaning of “Blinding Light Of Love,” commenting, “The lyrics try to capture the feeling of doom-scrolling/channel-surfing during the past year: there’s no relief from our current dystopia, and even switching from CNN to IFC doesn’t make things any better, if Blue Velvet’s on. The title, and a few of the lyrics, come from that David Lynch masterpiece. Laura Dern’s character has a vision of robins redeeming the world with a blinding light of love.”
“Sandy, our bassist, told me he had an angry riff, and asked me for some angry words, so I sent him these, with an explanation that he shouldn’t be fooled by the title — these days, it feels as if any redeeming light we get is most likely to come from an H-bomb blast.”
“The band was apparently feeling the same way, as Tommy’s furious drumming, Sandy’s thunderous bass, Jay’s insane strumming, and Bill’s astounding production articulate depths of rage and despair the lyrics can only hint at.”
“The video was animated by Anna Burholt, who did a great job capturing the apocalyptic feeling of the music.”
Pre-Order Mistakes Were Made and stream the audio for “Blinding Light Of Love” at Bandcamp
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