July 1998
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The Squirrel Nut Zippers
Perrenial Favorites


By Jessica Brandt

Okay, so this album doesn't come out for another month, but we at The Shrubbery got our grubby little hands on a copy a couple months early. This review is just to get you ready for the August 4th release date.

Another note about this review: I am a huge Squirrel Nut Zippers fan. I'm not saying that the review will be biased, because I think that you either love the Zippers or you just don't care (For example, I love the Squirrel Nut Zippers, but I think Jason just doesn't care). I reccommend their music to everyone, to at least give them one listen. You might be blown away. Or, like I said, you won't really care.

Long-time SNZ fans will recognize at least half of these songs from them being part of their live show for at least two years now. Perrenial Favorites is the third major release for the band. It's definitely different than the previous album, Hot, just as that one was different than The Inevitable. With this one, the Zippers dig even deeper into their musical toybox and utilize many different instruments. For example, there is much more of Jimbo's trombone work (finally!), especially in the first track, "Suits are Picking Up the Bill" (due to be the first single released, so keep an eye out for this one.)

Track two, "Low Down Man," is an incredibly sweet ballad, sung by Katherine Whalen, and will surely move her higher up in diva status. It's got a country feel, thanks to the pedal steel guitar, and also uses a piano background which is new for the Zippers, and has no other instrumentation except a slow bassline. That song melts into "The Ghost of Stephen Foster," which begins with the feel of a ghostly ship drifting through the fog (new instrument: ship bell) and uses some fantastic violin (played by long-time colaborator, Andrew Bird) to give the song that eerie feeling. It also contains one of my favorite lines from the album "Ships were made for sinking/Whiskey made for drinking/ If we were made of cellophane we'd all get stinking drunk much faster [ha ha ha]." What does that mean? I don't know, but you have to hear the way he says it...

"Pallin' With Al" comes next, which is a song guitarist/vocalist Tom Maxwell wrote in honor of his guitar idol, Al Casey. Fans will recognize this tune from the EP Sold Out which was released about six months ago. "Fat Cat keeps Getting Fatter," reminds me of (now don't laugh) something from that Disney movie The Aristocats. I have never seen the movie, but I used to listen to the album constantly and when I heard this song, I could have sworn I'd heard it before! If, when the album comes out, you agree with me, please mail me.

The only problem I have with this album is with track six, "Trou Macacq." I first heard it while travelling in my car, and I just about got into an accident when the sound shifted totally to my right speaker. I was so mad, because I thought I had gotten that FIXED....but no, it was just the CD. Anyway, the song is about the trials and tribulations of being in a band. This is one of the songs that has been in the band's setlist for a few years now. It's a great little story, and I can see Rob Zombie helping out with a cartoon video version of this track!

"My Drag" is another Katherine ballad, which will definitely have the girls (and guys, if you're that way) singing along in the bathroom mirror. "Soon" and "Evening at Lafitte's" are next, and are also both usually included in a Zipper setlist.

Track ten, "The Kraken," was described by Jimbo at the Zipper's last Cleveland concert as "Continuing to look at the dark side of Tom Maxwell's psyche." Think The Beatles' "Revolution 9" done in Zipperstyle. The album's only instrumental track, it uses steel drum, harp, various bangs and smashes, as well as no set melody. I can also hear this as part of another tripped-out Disney cartoon. The end is a 360-degree turn from the rest of the song, but I'll let you find out for yourself.

The album ends with "That Fascinating Thing" and the aptly titled "It's Over." The former being a sort of a strip-tease sounding song. It features some more trombone work as well. "It's Over" begins with some musical gobbeldygook (Zippers rummaging through that ol' musical toybox? hmmm?) and "Just when you think the party's starting/ It's over, it's over, it's over...."

This album sounds to be roughly produced, and not as polished as Hot was, but I do believe that's the sound the Zippers are going for. It will be interesting to see how any singles from this album fare. They do their recording "live," as in they do not usually record tracks seperately and mix them in a studio. Recording is done with the whole band in one room to get the feel of a live show, which is a great concept for this band's genre. Another interesting thing about this album, is that they really utilize violinist Andrew Bird, as he appears in practically every song. This is exciting, because he adds a lot more than you'd think to the music, especially in "The Ghost of Stephen Foster," which wouldn't be much of a ghost story without him. Hopefully, we'll see Bird travelling with the Zippers on their next time around.

I'd reccomend this album to any Zipper fans, for sure. If you're not a fan and just want to swing, I suggest picking up Hot first. On a whole, there is more instrumental preludes and each song sounds very different than the others, which isn't quite the case with the other two albums. The Squirrel Nut Zippers have used their popularity and well-built fanbase to let themselves have more freedom in their music, and I'm likin' it.

[A+] [97]

Special thanks to Taylor at Mammoth Records for giving us this sneak preview. Look for Perrenial Favorites in stores on August 4th, which will be an "enhanced CD" like Hot was.

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