As unaccountably gifted Jewish wiseacres with a sophisticated grasp of music and a penchant for darkly droll lyrics, operating as the twin-brained hub of a musical machine manned by impeccable players, Don and Dave Was have always struck me as being rather like the kid brothers of Steely Dan's Becker & Fagen.
(One of them is even called Don Fagenson, for heaven's sake!) So it's entirely appropriate that the Was Bros should take a hefty Dan-sized sabbatical between albums: the last Was (Not Was) studio set, Are You Okay?, appeared in 1990, since when Don has become the sought-after producer of stars such as Elton, Brian Wilson and the Stones, while Dave embarked upon a varied media career, scoring music for TV series such as The X-Files and broadcasting about music for a respected radio news magazine.
The roar of the greasepaint, though, was ultimately too enticing to resist, and so Don and Dave have gathered the old gang together again for Boo!, which picks up where they left off, shrinking the years away with its blend of muscular funk, sweet soul and sardonic lyrical smarts. The band's most potent weapon is its triple-pronged vocal attack, with Sweet Pea Atkinson's gruff bark supported, in classic gospel quartet manner, by the smoother, higher tones of Sir Harry Bowens and Donald Ray Mitchell. Together, they bring authenticity and emotional impact to even the weirdest of Was lyrics.
"Semi-Interesting Week", a typically trenchant low-rider funk groove, opens the album with Sweet Pea recounting his escapades of a week that started with him having sex with twins, and ended with aliens invading Hollywood; then "It's a Miracle" manages the difficult trick of couching Dylanesque lyrical weirdness within a slinky, soft-soul setting (As it happens, Dylan himself co-writes another song here, "Mr Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore".)
Elsewhere, "Your Luck Won't Last" and "Forget Everything" are exercises in comic cynicism, lent heft by straight-faced delivery; "Big Black Hole" casts Sweet Pea as a death-row inmate reflecting on his fall; and "Crazy Water" uses a loping swing-soul groove, similar to Wilson Pickett's "634-5789", to lament the drying-up of a spa.
Before you know it, Kris Kristofferson's sepia growl is bringing matters to a close with "Green Pills in the Dresser", a surreal motel tableau set to a haunted Calexico-style montage. There are few funnier times than those spent with Was (Not Was).
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