from the Critical List July 17, 1987
The Young Fresh Fellows: The Men Who Loved Music (Frontier). Given the 100 million really terrible things that can happen to a person betwixt cushy cradle and crumbly grave, and given the many things that do -- given, for that matter, the crumbly grave -- it seems pretty clear to me that the one thing none of us can really afford to be without in this world, this treacherous old tiger pit of a world, is a sense of humor. A sense of humor is like a sense of proportion, but better. A sense of proportion puts the lid on misery by allowing you to see your own particular troubles in the light of someone else's worse ones -- I wept because I could not see, until I met a man who had no head -- but a sense of humor actually improves the quality of your already ending life. It allows you to eat your own problems whole, burn the kernels for fuel, and blow the chaff out your ears in assorted colors; it lets you make hay while the sun shines, and while it doesn't. Laughter is the best medicine, says Reader's Digest, says Norman Cousins. It oxygenates the blood, I read somewhere, which sounds like a good thing, probably. Send in the clowns.
     I don't really connect well with gloom; it seems such a limited way of regarding the world, or reacting to it. Suffering -- in private, or in art -- is only really interesting to me when it leads to or at least posits something better than suffering; otherwise it's just another case history. The Punk Rock Explosion opened pop to all kinds of characters anxious to celebrate publicly their self-immolation -- it gave them a sort of seal of approval, even, and various cults of modish hopelessness took root in the dark late of such dour, doomed anti-heroes as Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis and Darby Crash. None of those people ever meant much or made much sense to me. My sympathies, as a Consumer of Art (and, for that matter, a chooser of friends), lie rather with those who take it for granted that Life Is Tough and are not paralyzed by its conditions (like them or not); who take the world as it comes and work their will on it as they may; who attempt to see beyond the end of their neuroses; and who, above all, like a good joke once in a while, especially if it's at their own expense. I like writers who can be funny.... A little bit of lightness is always appreciated.
     Now, this is, I'll be the first to avow, a rather highfalutin manner in which to approach an album by Seattle's Young Fresh Fellows, who are, after all, just a bunch of guys playing fairly trashy rock & roll. But this new LP, like their couple of previous LP's, is funny, and the fact that it's funny is one of the things I like about it. It's what makes it more than all right. The songs deliver what the titles promise: "Unimaginable Zero Summer," "I Got My Mojo Working (And I Thought You'd Like to Know)", "Amy Grant," "Get Outta My Cave." As music qua music, it has a good degree of charm, but it's a charm the band's extramusical charms -- the chummily wiseacre attitude, the cleverly silly lyrical constructions -- make doubly charming. This isn't the yocks-at-any-cost rock of Frank Zappa, or Al Yankovic or even the actually witty Bonzo Dog Band; the laughs here are more of a dividend, a function of the operation of the material, but not the reason for it. This is first and foremost rock & roll, in the great and dangerous tradition of the incidentally but purposefully hysterical Flaming Groovies, the Replacements, the Cramps and the Hoodoo Gurus. The Coasters, even. It's all about stuff as absolutely real and important as anything ever addressed by Ian Curtis or Darby Crash, and more reasonable besides. "I Don't Let the Little Things Get Me Down" goes one song; whether that is, as the liner notes ask, "optimism in the face of adversity or a blatant disregard for reality" is really beside the point. What matters is it works.

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Copyright Robert Lloyd © 1987 and 2000