Saturday, April 04, 2009
THE ODDFELLOWS- Carnival CD
(Tim Records 1992)
Before the star dimmed for Humpback Oak, The Oddfellows had already known the languishing spotlight. The music scene of today care not for down to earth, humble ordinary-looking heartlanders who sincerely want to rock out with all their heart and soul. And for The Oddfellows, add bulging tummies and receding hairlines. I wouldn't be surprised if The Oddfellows have no groupies at all, save for that few odd and queer Bachelors of Engineering taking “So Happy” too literally. To be frank with you, The Oddfellows is indeed not relevant in this age where you need really lots of hair on your scalp, and a scrawny, wimpy frame to complete the emo package. Patrick Chng, the main guy behind this band probably saw that coming long time ago before deciding to call it quits and moved on to his other endeavours. Kelvin Tan (not the other one who is blind), the lead guitarist guy from The Oddfellows also moved on to do solo and to this date had released more than fifty (!!!) albums, which undoubtedly made him Singapore's most prolific musician. From what I've read, their debut album “Teenage Head” did not do very well in sales (although it's a mystery where those remaining stocks have gone? Burnt?) and likewise the same goes for “Carnival”, the second album from these veterans, and which I am going to review here. Both albums however are historically very relevant. Almost every local musicians have cited these works as the most influential Singapore indie rock albums of the '90s, and just like “Teenage Head”, “Carnival” has scored hits with songs like “Unity Song” and “Goodbye”. I can almost empathize with Patrick Chng when he refused BigO's offer to reissue the two legendary albums, because it would indeed be pointless to do so. The real Oddfellows fans would have bought the albums already, be it in CD or cassette form and of course the best rockings are exclusively reserved to the fanclubs of fan's memories.
The Oddfellows on this album sees the departure of Wai Cheong, and the inclusion of two other old affiliates namely Vincent Lee on bass, and the multi-talented Kelvin Tan who shred guitars. When you break down “Carnival”, you find a Carny within. There is a reason why these bunch of guys are known as The Oddfellows. They are freakishly unique with alot of talent hanging out like meat which you would either wince away or take a bite. I assume that probably at that juncture, Patrick was facing his mid 20s crisis. On “Goodbye”, he mentioned “...oh I'm 25 and still doing things I like, lost enough to know what I really need to find...” He would have made up his mind, packed up his bag and left the crossroads and headed for lifelong dedication in the music scene. “Carnival” has very beautiful music that sounds like it was made by shy, socially awkward misfits who has a heart of gold. This is as awkwardly beautiful as Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl, and like her with outstanding soul.
“Don't Fight” begins the album with a very cheery Husker Du meets Reivers kind of energy, melodic and yet punk rocking at the same time. The naivete and enthusiasm of this track is a very purposeful starter of this “Carnival” experience. When it comes to “Goodbye”, the band gets gently melancholic in a very real, earnest manner. Like I've mentioned earlier, this song is suggestive of the uncertainties that Patrick and company is facing, and the uncertainties that Patrick is facing inside. The mood changes with “Unity Song”, the highlight of this album with its soaring uplifting melodies ala 10000 Maniacs and positive feel that exudes from the beautiful lyrics and music. The jingly-jangle quality of its bright pop easily made it a frequent on airwaves. “Walter Says” is an observant social commentary with drum machine driven beats. On “Pretty Faces”, The Oddfellows head back to their old punk roots along the line of “Lost My Head”, with its upbeat rhythm and loud, brash riffings. “She's So Innocent”, an acoustic number written by Kelvin Tan is exceptionally touching and beautiful. It is a very simple and heartfelt torch song dedicated to a particular Jacqueline Fan and it has that beautiful “nerd crush lament” that flows through its entirety in its unique Oddies ways. “Carry On” sounds like straight from the chapter of The NoNames with its infectious reggae beats and good spirits. Things became very twisted and dark with “Why Don't You Try To Find Out?”, written by Vincent Lee. It has a got a dejected and painful undertone, with subtle implications on sexuality, isolation, and depression. I do not know the real answer, so why don't you try to find out or ask Vincent if you care? Haha, ok ok it's about AIDS.
“Carnival” is refreshing for their time because they understand that indie pop/rock is meaningless without good melodies and words. They have the tunes and words to endear themselves to a whole generation of local music listeners and in the process probably inspired many would be musicians. The Oddfellows has succeeded in creating a work that is compelling without resorting to the high minded art garbage that many bands these days are striving to become, because they are playing themselves on this record, being Oddies, simple, slightly quirky heartlanders with a heart. It is a pitiful and sad thought that I will probably be the last person on Earth writing something about this band before the tiny red dot disappears in say 50 years down the road. For 99% of the readers out there, you probably would not be able to find this classic Singapore album anywhere since it, along with many supposedly low selling but rare local classics, simply poofed into thin air into limbo. But if you do, keep it stashed well, treasure it, for the Carny will not come to this tiny town anymore.
--sojourner at 5:23 AM