Thursday, July 05, 2007
THE ODDFELLOWS- Teenage Head CD
(Tim Records/BMG 1991)
It is hard to put this legendary album into perspective now, but The Oddfellows laid blueprint for many Singaporean upstarts to come. When it was released, no other band combined such uncompromising power of pop into the unbridled spirit of melodic rock, the sheer ethos of the rocking screaming eager for life, youth and idealism. Time plays a strange relativity, the good rocking from these guys seemed as refreshing as yesterday but it had been a good 16 years. But the mountain stays the same and the moonglow hasn't changed, “Teenage Head” will forever remain as the touchstone of Singaporean indie for generations to come. It only seemed like yesterday I was this impressionable youth confounded by Patrick Chng and gang rocking away in Boys' Town back in the vague misty recollection of 1990. I was by then of course familiar with most abandoned rock against establishment and a handful of Singaporean namedroppings, but the sheer energy of that performance took my breath away. The way Patrick commanded his presence was almost metaphysical and cult-like, yet at the same time brash and earnest in a very personal heartlander way. The music literally goes straight into my Teenage Head and captivates me like never before, a bit of surprise and a bit of envy. Life becomes hopeful at that point, what with after witnessing the proficiency of this local unit, I became eager to play a part in the good rocking. It never turned out the way I wanted but this story of failure is not laden with regret.
Undoubtedly when “Teenage Head” came out it brought along a whole new dimension of possibilities. It had been quite a while since local indie musicians had an album to call their own, the very last being Zircon Lounge's “Regal Vigor” LP released in 1983. Those lost periods in between consisted of a smattering of Gingerbread, Tokyo Square and the ubiquitous Dick Lee. Before things seemed too unbearable, BigO appeared from nowhere to simmer off the elevated heat of our tropical shithole and heralded a new wave of Singaporean music movement which played a part in propelling The Oddfellows into limelight. This dimension of possibilities became known as the great renaissance of Singaporean indie back in the not so distant '90s. Over that period there had been extensive airplay over radio of songs like “So Happy” and of course that asshole song promptly removed called “Song About Caroline”. After having witnessed how good The Oddfellows is, I was the first few lucky bastards to actually score for myself the very rare “Teenage Head” CD, and is a fervent follower of this band ever since, tracking down every offerings in their discography.
“Teenage Head” featuring a young Elvis Presley on the cover encapsulated the very spirit of the movement with all its raw energy and sincerity. Here, Patrick Chng ropes in long time member Wai Cheong and Abdul Nizam of The NoNames on this record, and put together the unique adolescent anthems greatly inspired by legends The Replacements, specifically on their second effort “Tim” (which is incidentally Pat's fledging label as well). The yearning melody belies its despairing, wistful lyric of teenage futility, the way it speaks to me is not partial nor approximate, but spot on, the teenage poetry belies great wisdom from the brains of Pat. The college rock quality ala The Replacements and REM is tampered with an overwhelming “Singaporean touch” which adds to the sheer appeal of this album.
When “More of You” rolls on the modest, heartfelt approach grabbed me by the balls and never let go. With the lines, “sweet as the wine, cold as the night...”, Pat speaks of the beautiful memories and spirit of '87 as old friendship is revisited, the nostalgia creeps in and he made an album. “Riding In Your Car” is a rather sad melancholy ballad about teenage confusion, loneliness and impossible love, very much in the spirit of The Replacement's “Swingin' Party”. Here one never gets enough of Pat's nasal whining, because the dripping pain is so perfect. “Your Smiling Face” was a hit back then and I remember they had a video with the late Bonnie Hicks. This is a gutwrenching song about infatuation, simple, naive and wide-eyed like the young Elvis or Patrick at his most dumbfounded. “Merry Go Round” is upbeat, snotty and brash, rearing the raucuous spirit of punk with a good smearing of teenage angst. “World of Annie” has got nothing to do with John Denver. This song is played entirely on acoustic guitar, an earthly earnest number waxing the misunderstood teenage outsider even alienated by her parents “and her mama couldn't understand 'cos she just talks and talks and talks, and her papa couldn't comprehend why she is happy to be sad...” Very simple and beautiful. “20 Years” is perhaps written specifically for us old fogeys who still find joy typing away nostalgia on the internet. It laments the inevitable fate of growing old, which Patrick was probably facing through in his mid-20s crisis, the bitter number makes me equally sad and submitted to the fact that this Teenage Head is just as historical as my youth. Even the young at heart is waning abit. “So Happy”, is a highlight of the album, and it even made its way to a single put out by the band (which of course has its place in my collection). This time round, instead of a beautiful melody that belies sad lyrics, this is the other way round. The bitter irony of a happy prose is performed with the regressive incendiary strings downcasting low fire. “Here I Fall Again” is a slow ballad about lost innocence and the losing end of a loser youth, miraculously soaring and uplifting in its own sad way. “Lost My Head” is the song where I lost my head to The Oddfellows! This is the potent “devil may care” anthem of idealistic youthful punk rocking, coupled with its catchy chorus and wicked jangles, head bobbing recklessness that is so captivating at the same time. “Two Trains” is a goofy ballad played entirely on acoustic guitars again, but in a drunken way like hillbillies doing folkmeister. And of course hearing Pat whistles after some whinings is as refreshing as a detox after a meaty diet. And last but not least, this is mandatory listen. This is THE Oddfellows song. Here it is “Song About Caroline”. This is the infamous asshole song that incensed some conservative squarepants in the early '90s. And yet the radio did play this song much to my surprise, given the rather closed climate back then. This song is of course really about Caroline being the asshole, she caused much dismay to the music fan Pat as he questioned “where is my Big Black tape and Sonic Youth? She lost that too...”. But here he rounded up in a self depreciatory manner... “Caroline is an asshole and I'm a fool.” Of course this is made solely for the sake of good rocking and all is forgiven I believe.
Nevertheless despite the fact that I am the only one now painstakingly doing a writeup on this album (siew kum hong aka limabean is another big fan who used to do big tribute to The Oddfellows with reviews and articles, etc, but I bet he have better things to do these days as an NMP), the sheer impact of this album on the whole of the local indie scene is immeasurable because without this bold gesture back then in the climate of prudish plebeians, we would probably still be rocking to some Dick Lees and Tokyo Squares. Interesting enough, Pat asked “will I ever have a place...will they just forget my name?” in “20 Years”. Oh well to answer that, it's been 16 years and yes, we still do remember your name. Thank you very much for all the best in Singapore rocking.
--sojourner at 10:44 PM