The Beauty Shop have twisted the heart-wrenching, hilarious and sadistic into pretty commercially viable confines for a while now. John Hoeffleur’s trio (now completed by Ben Ucherek and new bassist Eric Fisher) has already been responsible for two albums that left me in absolute awe. They’ve received a fair share of critical acclaim and a small but adamant fan base along the way. To keep people up to speed, they’ve released an EP of four decently mixed first takes of new songs on iTunes. The standard is keeping with past form.
“Like I Wasn’t Even There” takes the macabre-celebratory relentlessness of Yr Money Or Yr Life cuts like “Death March” and adds half a notch of immediacy. I love this band for the way their material takes a look ’round, recognizing things are practically bleak and ridiculous out there, smirks and continues deadpan. The aforementioned song wouldn’t be out of place on a later Cash or early Cohen album. Hoeffleur’s request for the subject to “traumatise someone your own size, because I can’t even make a dent” is balanced by him confessing “I’m no saint; I got no complaints, because I do this to myself.” The effect is scathing, doom-ridden, and pretty funny.
“Bad Place” really betrays John’s love of the Violent Femmes. It’s more of a little sibling to songs like “Rumplestiltskin Lives” from 2004’s Crisis Helpline. The guitar is pretty dominant in the mix, and John’s bark intermittently creeps above the threshold, like the most aggressive Hamell on Trial live recording.
“Ambulance” is a typical show-stopper. There has to be a parallel world where The Beauty Shop headlines festivals to screaming crowds. Inviting the listener to step on the stretcher “just as hurt as hurt can get.” I particularly like the statement “one time I’d tried to say I just love somebody, but my job is to shut up and drive, and it ain’t brain surgery.” If the Smashing Pumpkins did this, journalists would be laying chocolate eggs.
“Tied Up in a Knot” surprised me. The tone is more Abbey Road (or at a pinch, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning) than “I Got Issues.” Still, the trademark sardonic wit and likable cynicism suffocate any Mariah Carey/sorrowful Midwest style gravitas. Recognizing that “it’s now or nothing,” John remains “a master of too little much too late.” I’m prepared to countenance crass tabloid sloganeering for this lot. Good band in still excellent shocker. It’d be nice if lots of people bought the new album next time around.
The Beauty Shop – Crisis Helpline
The Beauty Shop – Yr Money Or Yr Life
The Beatles – Abbey Road