Friday, March 1, 2013

Review - Aardvark Spleen - Love of Wisdom

And sometimes you buy an album just because you like the name. Aardvark. I wasn't planning to listen to this one again but then I read the review and darnit if it doesn't sound interesting.

* * * * * Combine blues, rock, philosophy and Ralph the Dog and you'll get the twisted swill that is Aardvark Spleen. Their first release, Love of Wisdom, simultaneously pays tribute to and lambastes such important philosophical figures as Copernicus, Socrates, Prometheus and Barney the Proletarian Elf, arguably creating the most intellectually heady lyrics of the decade. Most of the songs discuss philosophical beliefs or world views (in fact the very album title Love of Wisdom is the literal Greek translation of the word "philosophy") while a few are intended to cause great confusion on the part of the listener.

"The Best Diseases" discusses living the "good life" with a rocking ragtime piano, soulful harmonica, and a vocalist that does a dead-on Ralph the Dog from the Muppet Show. "Earthman" is a funky, sax-filled romp through teleological order while "Living Like a Three Toed Sloth", with its frenetic rockabilly groove and jangly guitars, valorizes the "dirtiest and slowest land animal". Other songs, such as "Contaminated Animal" and "Down By The Sea" switch gears to a more subdued, contemplative mood, throwing in flute and backing female vocals to join the appealing melodies. While most of the songs have a healthy dose of humor to go along with the philosophical ruminations, "Gonna Steal Your DNA" and "Demonic Granny" throw in double and triple scoops. "Barney The Proletarian Elf" is especially fun, creating a view of a Santa who deliberately stunts the growth of elves and prohibits labor unions until the usually quiet Barney cries for revolution and the head of Santa on a plate. Good stuff!

Where this album falls short is the same problems that befall most local efforts... thinking that a successful live song will translate well onto a recording. For instance, "Prometheus", with it's spooky keyboards and haunting melodies, is simply too long for the number of musical ideas, becoming repetitive and boring, overstaying its welcome when it could have been an effective, eerie ode to the god who gave mankind fire. Overall, though, the album is a good listen with elements of folk, rock, blues, rockabilly, and a smattering of jazz, brewed together with the kind of lyrics that come from taking a few too many philosophy classes.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, April 2000.

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