Various Artists

Place of General Happiness

East Side Digital, 1991

One of the most interesting "tribute" albums I've heard. The subtitle of this album is "Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings, vol. 2". Brookings was a poet who only took up poetry in his 80s, and wrote some very strange poems about everyday things like toast and hair, notable both for their transcendent banality and for the willingness to sacrifice any sort of coherence in pursuit of a rhyme. In fact, viewed in that light, they seem perfectly suited to become pop lyrics. There are no big name bands on this album (well, there's XTC, although it's really only Andy Partridge from that band), but there are lots of names familiar to reasonably adventurous listeners: Young Fresh Fellows, Brave Combo, Fred Frith, Chunk, Bim Skala Bim. For several groups, this album answers the question "where are they now": for example, when did you last hear of Men & Volts, Rubber Rodeo, or ex-Swimming Pool Q Anne Richmond Boston?

Despite the fact that all the bands wrote their own music to Brooking's lyrics, there's a surprising consistency; the poems' own rhythms seem to dominate the music, resulting in few straightahead rock songs. In fact, the music here seems more coherent than on most tribute albums where the music is the work of a single writer -- perhaps because there is no original version here from which to deliberately diverge.

My favorite couplet (from "Fifty" performed by Bim Skala Bim): "Is there a dry unoccupied aquarium? Which may be refilled with fish and tranquility."

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