Winnipeg's Crash Test Dummies have never hewed to expectations. After starting out as a college folk-pop band and then morphing into a still quirky but more radio-friendly outfit, the group led by Brad Roberts became less accessible on recent albums, which delved (often ill-advisedly) into weird-ass funk, soul and R&B.
The ninth -- yes, ninth! -- album from CTD was apparently inspired by the Optigan, a '70s-era Mattel keyboard that relies on prerecorded soundtracks. The result is as gimmicky as it sounds, genre-hopping from doo-wop and honky-tonk to Jazz Age ditties and programmed organ-beat oddities. But fans of the band's early work may appreciate its offbeat qualities, not to mention Roberts' knack for appealing melodies and the album's orchestral feel.
The interplay between Roberts' rumbling vocals and the melancholy loveliness of keyboardist-singer Ellen Reid's harmonies has always been among the group's primary charms and there's plenty of it here (see And It's Beautiful for a fine example). Unfortunately, Roberts too often pushes that mannered baritone of his into forced lows, as on the otherwise lovely '30s-tinged Not Today Baby, which is reduced to novelty status by his vocal mugging. He visits the past more successfully on the wartime-era swing tune Now You See Her (complete with the vintage crackle of vinyl), but adopting a cartoonish cowboy drawl on the catchy C&W number What I'm Famous For doesn't do the song any favours. 3 stars
-- Jill Wilson