tremble clef

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Lizards' Convention, "The Goat That Haunted Me"/"Rock The Boat" (1995)

Readers, if you've ever found yourself wondering, "But which is the best modern Singaporean pop album?" then wonder no more. It is, of course, The Lizards' Convention's Here's A Funny Fish, Hurrah! Sure, the competition is not especially fierce in this category. I say this not because there is no musical talent in Singapore, but that talent tends not to be channelled towards smart English pop. In the mid- to late 90s, there was in fact a slew of quite good bands -- The Padres, The Oddfellows, Humpback Oak -- but most of them made indie rock music. The Lizards' Convention, which at that time had four band members in their late teens, in contrast had a much poppier sensibility.

It was a quirky sensibility as well, as you might already have guessed from that album title. The record included tracks called "Gribbit The Frog," "If Cows Grew On Trees," and most awesomely, "The Goat That Haunted Me." Not only did that last song have an arresting title -- and relevant, since I can't tell you how many fucking evil goats I've been stalked by -- but the song itself didn't disappoint, being an eccentric pop number whose main hook comes from, believe it or not, what sounds like a fiddle.

Here's A Funny Fish, Hurrah! also had several very imaginative covers: a upbeat yet plaintive version of "Wooden Heart," which is most associated with Elvis, plus a couple of 70s disco-rock songs in "Stuck In The Middle With You" and "Rock The Boat." I especially love the latter, despite having very little use for the Hues Corporation original. The band tweaks the song in small, but noticeable and effective ways. The original, you may remember, has a short three-note horn section that appears at the beginning, which is then pretty much buried in the mix for the rest of the song. The Lizards' Convention builds on and expands that passage, playing it on chiming guitars and making it into much more of a hook. The tempo is a little faster, less shuffling than the original. At the end of the song they interpellate a snippet of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," which is, frankly, genius, especially since it allows them to end on the slightly ominous line "life...is but a dream." The vocalist, Kristine Oehlers, has a high-pitched, fragile, and somewhat thin voice that, at moments on the record, comes close to being off-pitch. But she's great at using that voice, with all its limitations. Here, for example, the way she goes up an octave on "our love is like a ship on the ocean" is quite spine-tingling.

The band did well with the album, having radio hits with "Pleasant Song," "The Goat..," and "Wooden Heart" (which was apparently also very popular in Thailand). The band, now down to three members, then recorded a follow-up album called Quarkstar, which was unfortunately shelved after their original label folded and the company who took over found the new album -- apparently an acoustic affair -- too uncommercial. It's not entirely clear if the band is still going, since their website (on Geocities! Quaint! Kids, ask your parents to explain) hasn't been updated in about five years. However, some of the links on the "Downloads" page are still working, and I especially recommend "Pleasant Song" in addition to the two I've posted.

One final, funny story: when the album was first released, I picked it up on cassette (again, younger readers, ask your 'rents) on a trip back to Singapore. About four or five years later, I was still living in the Boston area, and one day found the CD at a second-hand store for a buck. It's not totally strange, since the guitarist/lead songwriter of the group at that time lived (and still does, I believe) in Boston, but it was still amusing that I went thousands of miles away from "home" only to come -- in a welcomed manner, which isn't always the case -- face-to-face with it again.

6 Comments:

  • This was one of my favorite albums of all time, and I consider the CD a collector's item. Too bad the band didn't record more stuff after their first CD.

    'Wooden Heart' was a huge hit in the Philippines, at the time it was popular (around 1995), it was played everywhere. And I think the band even made a short promotional visit.

    Still looking for that elusive 'Quarkstar' CD. Do you have it?

    By Blogger rob, at 4:16 PM  

  • Living in Singapore as an Expatriate, I just happened to know Sol Foo (a SCUBA diving buddy). She was the Bass player for the band and of Phillipino descent. I bought my copy from her directly, and still have the disc, but the case was destroyed and lost during one of my many moves. She thought i wouldn't like the disc because I was into indie rock at the time, but of my 2,500 cd's it still recieves very regular play in 2009.

    By Anonymous Trevor Wimer, at 2:12 PM  

  • I've got the cassette tape, too, but after an infinite number of loops and forwards and reverses, it's gone kaput now..
    Trevor I'd kill to have that cd, pray tell, is it still available in shops?

    By Anonymous Fuzz, at 8:56 PM  

  • Not in shops anymore, but I have a copy if you want to rip. Oooh, is that still a bad word?

    By Blogger Chris, at 11:38 PM  

  • is that a copy of quarkstar? I'd love a copy. I picked up the first album on a port visit in Singapore years ago.

    By Anonymous vegaskatus@yahoo.com, at 5:29 AM  

  • hi chris... you mentioned you could help rip "here's a funny fish, hurrah"... is that offer still open?... been searching for the songs for a while now, unsuccessfully... :s

    By Blogger superfrog80, at 12:25 PM  

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