Fame & Fortune 1983 / Mental Experience 2019
Sublime stylistic inconsistency from Chicago trio who tried to push all the buttons – and succeeded, once the buttons were gone.
“I Still Don’t Know Your Style”: the title of this trio’s sole LP, out in 1981 as a follow-up to their debut mini-album, might be the best characteristic of the band’s approach to music – which could have been called a collage if it weren’t so weirdly organic. “Dogs’ Ears Are Stupid” – originally a cassette-only release – takes such a notion to the limit of sanity, sprucing up the ensemble’s electric attack with unexpected effects and melodies from the past and the future, while being nailed to their era by the relentless beat of drum machine. There’s nothing superificial, though, in the songs that combine camp performance with memorable melodies and intellectual undercurrent.
Perceivably non-American, the pieces on display may suggest the influence of a certain German collective yet, given the Chicagoans started off in 1974, they most likely ran in parallel with Kraut masters, so Victor Sanders’ flamenco guitar sets “European Trains” far apart from “Trans-Europe Express” despite these tracks’ similar chug. Still, some cuts are completely cosmopolitan – and prone to time warp, too. Occasionally breaking into standards – singer Christine Baczewska’s smile is audible once the vaudevillian rendition of “Sentimental Journey” has found its place in the pentatonic idiosyncrasy of “Chinese Food Part 1” – the group also wrap harmony guitar around “Oceans In My Ears” whose reggae groove gets transmogrified in a hard-rock stampede before releasing bulerias in the open, but they never cross the incompatibility line.
Hence the record’s variety. To further defy genre boundaries, Sher Doruff, now an art academician, adds her insistent licks to the polyphonic ’50s pastiche of “Chinese Food Part 2” and to the fragile pastorale of “The Sleepwalker Bites Herself In French” which fuses Gallic effervescence to Illinoisan exquisite musing, but the album’s theatrical title number will dwell on a droning march where one’s integrity is questioned. Filled with prog dread, techno riffs and half-obscure quotes from Eric Woolfson, “Cemetery” unfolds a pop-oratorio, whereas “No Beethoven” weaves “Allegretto” into a celestial chorale, yet it’s sensual splendor of “Like Me” that should have propelled the trio to regal heights of “Bo Rap” – the move impeded by the cassette’s emergence in the wrong decade.
They could inhabit the ’80s, the strum and synthesizer melange on the bonus of “Dancing Partners” showing how the ensemble would sound had the circumstances not tear it all apart. Fame beckoned – and threatened to ruin their uniqueness, which is preserved here and finally available. Stupid or not, the songs on “Dog’s Ears” form a masterpiece.