Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians


It’s Like This (1986)
Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars (1988)
Ghost of a Dog (1990)
Stranger Things (2006)

Although What I Am is the hit from Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and I like it, the song that always stuck with me from that album was Circle.  I can distinctly remember driving late at night with Melanie through the rain and the intersection of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street.  As it happened the light was red and I simply failed to notice this fact as I took the opportunity to enjoy once again:

Everything is temporary anyway
When the streets are wet
The colours slip into the sky

Luckily it was so late at night that there were no other cars, buses or trucks on the road and we didn’t need to be cut out of the wreckage of our vehicle or, worse, literally prove the point that we were temporary anyway.

The band I was in through the 1990s did a cover version of What I Am.  Like most cover versions we did, this cover also wasn’t very good, but it was probably the best of our bad bunch.  For a band with limited chops we sometimes took on impossible songs.  How about the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ version of Higher Ground?  We could barely keep time, ffs.

Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars is good.  I’ve been listening to it again.  I once had the cassette tape.  It turns out it is kind of a major label draft two of It’s Like This (1986) which has a lot of early versions of the songs that appear on Rubberbands.  The early drafts are good too.  The It’s Like This songs are less produced; there’s much less of that clean sounding acoustic guitar that slightly dates Rubberbands, but it does keep that nice rootling around sound of the guitar.  That rootling around is from Kenny Withrow who co-wrote What I Am with Brickell.  In fact, a lot of the songs are whole band compositions or Withrow-Brickell.  There is, incidentally, a song on It’s Like This calledWicked (Shooting Rubberbands) which explains where the next album title came from.

Creeping around like an alley cat
Shooting rubberbands at the stars
(They never go that far)

Someone has uploaded It’s Like This to Youtube and you can hear the whole thing.  What I Am is really the same in 1986 as it was in 1988 except, actually, a bit better.  In fact, It’s Like This is really good.  It seems like getting signed to Geffen in between these first two albums really destroyed New Bohemians.  The record label fired the original drummer, and made them rebrand to Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians.  You can imagine what kind of stress that put on the members.

You can see the record label effect if you listen to their first three albums.  Album one, and album three – Ghost of a Dog – are albums by a band, and in Rubberbands Edie is positioned out front, the album listens much more like it’s Edie’s vehicle, and her lyrics and voice are ahead, and the band is often much more acoustic sounding.  In short something really crap happened here.  Their least representative album as a band was their biggest hit, and is a really good album, but the external dabbling needed to create that album soured things, and they broke apart.

Not before they did Ghost of a Dog though.  That’s a really good album.  Edie drops back, and the band comes forward.  Listening to this album it seems a real shame that it was their last album except for the inevitable reunion album.  Stranger Things is their inevitable reunion album and it has some good songs on it (like the first and last song), but I realised what was missing on the second listen through: Edie’s lyrics.  One of the highlights of Rubberbands, and part of what Edie brings to the band, are her lyrics.  On Rubberbands (not so much on Ghost of a Dog, but she sounds really confident) it’s hard not to smile quite a few times as she writes her self-reflective, circular, joking lines.  There’s nothing to say about the words on Stranger Things.

It also may have one of the worst album covers of all time. It  might work as a $2.99 kids’ nursery rhymes CD cover, but not really for anything else.

Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians are a strange kind of story.  Whoever it was who signed them to Geffen and shaped the album Rubberbands was right.  Even though Ghost of a Dog is good, Rubberbands is much better, and much more memorable, than anything else they ever did.  So faced with the decisions they had to make in 1988 they made the right decisions if you look at it from the output side of things.  Looked at from a band of brothers, personal side it was a disaster.  Difficult really to say what to do.  Just enjoy Rubberbands I guess,

Thursday afternoon you cast a shadow ’round my room
The breeze moved the curtains and lifted my perfume into the air

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

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