News flash! Asylum Street Spankers go electric!
No, not really.
But if the Austin-based vaudevillean ensemble attempted to recreate some of the sonic acoutriments on its latest long player — the confidently-titled My Favorite Record — on stage, it would need to plug in a sampler.
My Favorite Record is the first album the band has released for another label since its well-publicized battle in 2000 with Watermelon Records. The band and the label sparred over master recordings of the Spankers’ first albums, which has since been reissued on Bloodshot.
(The group formed its own label, Spanks-a-Lot, that year and has released a number of EPs, live recordings and solo projects by itself.)
My Favorite Record feels like a proper follow-up to 1999’s expansive Hot Lunch. Both recordings share the fidelity of a studio project.
In some ways, My Favorite Record feels like the umpteen-member ensemble have gone through some creative downsizing of its own. In the past, the Spankers leap-frogged from jazz to country to blues to comedy to Hawaiian to … you get the idea.
The new songs focus more on blues and roots music. It’s not as wildly diverse as previous albums, but that clarity gives the album a forceful confidence.
Asylum Street Spankers can be jokesters, but they can also be poignant when they wannabe. In the past, those moments of gravity didn’t fit so snugly with the band’s pranks.
This time around, those moments don’t feel so incongruous. The sweet sentimentality of “Smile” doesn’t seem out of place next to the honky-tonk imagery of “Wingless Angels”. The playfullness of “The Minor Waltz” serves as a nice lead-in to the smoldering “No Song Sad Enough”.
Of course, the Spankers are best when its offering biting commentary on modern foibles.
Donning on his best Dashboard Confessional, Guy Forsyth vows to take up any and all political causes for the loftiest of all goals — “to get in bed with you”.
Wammo indulges his inner Ozzy Osbourne on “Wammo’s Blues”, bragging how he’ll “go on a blind date to Disneyworld with Charles Manson, Loreena Bobbitt and Lizzy Borden and … still be the only one who gets naked”. That’s before he “suck[s] the formaldehyde out of the jar holding Kurt Cobain’s brain while using Hemingway’s shotgun as a straw”.
The band gets most ambitious on the album’s title track. Half way through the song, the Spankers turn into John Zorn, splicing parodies of metal, Mike Patton and doo-wop (“oh, baby sit on my face ‘cos I love youuuuuuu!!”), concluding with its own version of a skipping needle.
The confidence of the album’s title isn’t misplaced. My Favorite Record is the Spankers’ tightest studio effort yet, and it deserves many multiple spins.