Crash Test Dummies
The Crash Test Dummies was one of those quirky bands that roll out of Canada every now and then. Like fellow Canadians, Barenaked Ladies, CTD was the "critic's darling" and cult favorite who had a brief but exciting moment of mass adulation. Unlike BNL, Crash Test Dummies were popular from the start. A demo tape designed to net the group some gigs beyond their native Winnipeg landed a recording contract.
Like countless bands, CTD came about as a meeting of the minds of two principals, Winnipeg club owner and sometime drummer, Curtis Riddell, and guitarist/vocalist Brad Roberts. In its original incarnation the group hardly seemed a serious effort - a sort of sub-side project. But with the addition of keyboardist/vocalist Ellen Reid, guitarist (and more) Benjamin Darvill, drummer Mitch Dorge and Brad's brother, Dan, on bass, CTD became a real entity.
The group's '91 debut, "The Ghosts That Haunt Me," was a huge success in their native land selling over 400,000 copies. But despite the hit single "Superman's Song," a pair of Juno Awards (the Canadian version of the Grammys) and near unanimous praise from critics, the album failed to register in the states. That soon changed with '93 release, "God Shuffled His Feet."
When a band fails, it's rare that anyone volunteers to step forward and right the situation. But when a group has even moderate success there are people (hoping to profit) coming out of the woodwork to help them go further. One result of CTD's success was attracting former Talking Heads keyboardist, Jerry Harrison, to produce the album that featured a "pastoral scene" cover.
Adult Album-Oriented Alternative Rock (AAA) radio stations jumped on the charmingly odd-ball single, "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm." Eventually, the song blew out of AAA and crossed over. The end result was a mega hit. The album, which also contained "Afternoons And Coffeespoons," went platinum and eventually sold over five million copies.
Their cover of XTC's "The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead," with Reid handling the vocals, found its way on to the soundtrack of the Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels comedy "Dumb And Dumber." While the song went #1 in Canada (figures), it did little elsewhere.
Produced by CTD members, "A Worm's Life," was another platinum effort in Canada . Say what you will about Canadians, the do support their bands. The '96 album had a more guitar oriented sound but failed to yield any significant hits in the U.S.
Coming just nine months before the end of the century, "Give Yourself A Hand," had Reid singing lead vocals on three songs. It marked the end of CTD's relationship with their label, BMG. In addition, subsequent CTD projects seemed to start more as Roberts' solo efforts that eventually incorporated other band members.
Seems the Crash Test Dummies had an aversion to success. Once they hit platinum status they went their own way refusing to cater to the fickle public. That can either be viewed as stunningly independent and artistically driven or incredibly stupid.
"Ghosts That Haunt Me" has definite Folk leanings. Led by the ballad "Superman's Song," there's also the jaunty "Here On Earth (I'll Have My Cake)" with a pleasing Scottish lilt.
CTD's eclectic and peculiar take dominates but is not overbearing on "God Shuffled His Feet. It's a balance CTD never achieves again. The ballad "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" has one of the best-hummed hooks in Rock. "Afternoons And Coffeespoons" is a buoyant acoustic Folk romp. Roberts and the group can't play it entirely straight as the song "How Does A Duck Know" indicates. It's off-beat but that's the draw. While it would have been interesting to hear them mine that perspective for a while, CTD decided to wallow in various low-key styles including their root Folk and Country.