Essential Albums of the 80s and 90s: Combustible Edison- I, Swinger

Combustible Edison – I, Swinger

Year of Release:  1994

Essential Tracks:

  • Cadillac
  • The Millionaire’s Holiday
  • Breakfast at Denny’s
  • Cry A River
  • Spy Vs. Spy

Quick!  What do alt-rock and punk bands have in common with easy listening and lounge music acts?  Give up?  The answer is simple: Sub-Pop Records signed them!  That’s right.  The record label that brought us Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, and was known for all sorts of heavy-hitting acts is also responsible for bring us a key player in the short-lived swing resurgence that happened in the 90s.

Yeah, that was a thing and the group in question here is Combustible Edison.

Combustible Edison, also known as The Combustible Edison Heliotropic Oriental Mambo and Foxtrot Orchestra, was started by former members of a Providence, RI rock band called “Christmas” as founders of the band, The Millionaire (Michael Cudahy) and Miss Lily Banquette (Liz Cox) attempted to piece together a fourteen-piece orchestra for a show that The Millionaire had written called “The Tiki Wonder Hour.” The orchestra evolved and morphed into the five-member group which was signed by Sub Pop!

After an EP and single release, they officially released a debut album entitled I, Swinger in 1994.

While the album came out in the 90s during the (mostly ironic) swing revival, the album and music could fit in during the Big Band era of the 20s, 30s and 40s!

I, Swinger opens with “Cadillac” which opens with a swinging and bouncing drum beat and upright bass.  This is kind of a Big Band, ballroom style that could easily be the intro to a song by Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman (look them up, kids!) The song continues with a call-and-answer melody repeated by vibraphone, harpsichord and organ mixed with The Millionaire’s funky rock n’ roll guitar style. This culminates with a boogie-woogie piano riff and comes grinding to a halt after all of this repeats itself. It’s hard to believe that this was all done and composed by a five person group!

The second track on the album is arguably the most famous track by the band (and is, in fact the first song of theirs I heard in 1994).  “The Millionaire’s Holiday” starts with some soft drum play and guitar styling that could easily be mistaken for Dick Dale (again, look him up) with some floating organ over top. This is the track where we are introduced to the beautiful vocal styling of Miss Lily. It’s a two minute song with somewhat nonsensical lyrics that seem to point irony at the fact that this is swing music (“If your pad is a wax museum, be a swinger if you dare”) and Lily’s old-timey blues lady voice is almost and instrument in and of itself. Why is this song so pivotal in the history of Combustible Edison? One word: Commercials. This song was used in ads for everything from soda to cars to video games. It was also used in the soundtrack for “Four Rooms” which the band did as well.

This is immediately followed by a track that almost doesn’t fit the album.  That is not a bad thing by any means and the track is one of the best on the record. “Breakfast at Denny’s” almost sounds eerie with it’s slower pace, floating vibraphone sounds, sparse bassline, wood block percussion sounds and floating guitar. Throw in the “aaah’s” of Miss Lily and the deeper male voices of the group and the somewhat middle eastern sounding guitar melodies in the middle of the track and this could easily be turned into an entire movie soundtrack. In fact, this one was also in Four Rooms.

Four Rooms - A Comedy Compliments Of The House

“Intermission” is next.  The track literally sounds like one that would be used in an old movie theater during an intermission. I wish I could say something special about this one but, while it’s good, it doesn’t stand out. What does stand out, however, is yet another number with Lily’s vocals.

“Cry Me A River” sounds like a song that could have been a standard in Billie Holiday’s repertoire and that pretty much explains it.  It’s a bluesy, break up song. Lily’s voice is decidedly as sexy as could possibly be on this track as she sings “Cry me a river. Cry me a river. I’ll cry a river over you…”

“Impact” is next which sounds like a crazy abstract jazz piece that could have been done by Miles Davis during his “Bitches Brew” sessions.  It almost has an impromptu jam feel to it that would make any jam band (e.g. Phish or The Grateful Dead) fan happy as well and this transitions nicely into “Guadalupe” and it’s tango feeling and more of Miss Lily’s sweeping voice and a faint hint of The Millionaire’s surfer rock electric guitar.

The remainder of the album just seems to find the group having a good time and embracing the fact that they are a swing band through and through. There are goofy melodies and repeated themes from the beginning of the album (“Carnival of Souls.”) The Millionaire’s guitar style further shows itself with some more tango rhythms and some more showcasing of the group’s keyboard sections (“Veldt.”) Miss Lily even delves into foreign language lyrics (German in “Surabaya Johnny.”)

Two track bring round out the album perfectly.   While Combustible Edison did the soundtrack for Four Rooms after this album, they certainly put forth the images and style that they were meant to do scores for old spy movies and this is the whole idea of “Spy Vs. Spy.” The title itself conveys the sense of a spy flick and the strong backbone of percussion and keyboards are augmented by some more of that guitar sound! Then it all changes up to a fast paced jazz piece done on a harpsichord and back to guitars again.

Out of breath from that last one?  Well there is one more. Since the group came from the orchestra used in “The Tiki Wonder Hour,” would the album be complete without the theme from that production? Here it is. Very light and soothing. A nice way to close the album.

Jazz and lounge, Swing, Ironic, Hipster music, etc.  Whatever this is called now, Combustible Edison fits the bill and made quite a career out of it. There were more albums where this came from, but I feel this is the essential one! Sub Pop made a great decision signing these guys along with their already heavy-hitting lineup of Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nirvana, etc. And while the swing revival may have died at the turn of the century, the music itself never will, so go ahead and embrace it. Listen to this album, sit and chill with your martini (“A glass and a shaker. Our host is a real scene maker”- The Millionaire’s Holiday) and enjoy the stylings of The Millionaire (guitar), Miss Lily (vocals and bongos), Nick Cudahy (bass), Mr. Peter Dixon (organ), Aaron Oppenheimer (percussion) and special guests Brother Cleve and Michael “Laughing Boy” Connors: The Combustible Edison Heliotropic Oriental Mambo and Foxtrot Orchestra!

 

Essential Albums of the 80s and 90s: KMFDM – Angst

Join me as I take you on a musical journey through time as I share the albums from the 80s, 90s, etc that are a must own or at least a must listen!

KMFDM – ANGST

Year of Release:  1993

Essential Tracks:

  • “Light”
  • “A Drug Against War”
  • “Sucks”

When I say the word “Industrial” when it comes to musical genres, what comes to mind? Groups like Nine Inch Nails, I’m sure. Maybe you even think of Stabbing Westward or, more recently, Korn and a whole crop of Nu Metal groups. All these answers are acceptable. There are even hundreds of other groups that I don’t even know.

Well, there is one group that always comes to mind for me. Straight out of Germany, it’s KMFDM! The band which started as a project of artistic expression and whose full name,<Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid, loosely translates as “no pity for the majority” originated in 1984 and released 18 albums and countless singles. All the albums are great but one stands out to me as an essential album you must own or at least listen to before you die.

Angst came out in 1993 and solidified the group as a mainstay in the metal scene at the time. They were featured in metal magazines and even had one of their songs, “A Drug Against War,” featured in Beavis and Butthead.

The album is completely mindblowing. It opens with “Light” and gets you pumped with a grindingly heavy guitar riff blending with some synthesizers that sound like the 80s and 90s are fighting each other with no clear winner. The refrain of the song will get you prepared for the album as a whole too with the line “KMFDM. Doin’ it again. A treat for the Freaks.” Yup. Get in and get pumped. The second track on the album, “A Drug Against War,” may very well be the best one and is easily the definitive track with fast paced, seizure-inducing guitars and drums, distorted vocals, sampled lines which distinctly sound like George Bush Sr saying “Bomb the living bejeepers out of those forces” and a random “Kill everything.” This is easily the most over-the-top speed metal track the band ever did and when people think of them or at the very least of this album, “A Drug Against War” is what comes to mind.

The angry and distorted lyrical style continues through the majority of the album mixing with guitar riffs that sound like they belong to classic rock greats before them like Black Sabbath (Listen to the guitars in “Blood”) and bands that came after like Rammstein mixed with 80s and 90s synth programming that could easily come from a Depeche Mode album (“Lust”). All in all, the mix of speed metal and synth is what makes the band fantastic and I feel it’s best expressed on this album.

Aside from “Light” and “A Drug Against War,” this album brought us the definitive moment in KMFDM’s history. The second to last song on the album is “Sucks.” Leave it to a band that started as a performance art project to produce a techno song discussing how much they suck. The lyrics are rapped over some of the cheesiest and most hollow sounding synth pop. “Our music is simple. Totally fake. It’s done by machines ’cause they don’t make mistakes.” There are references to hating all music “especially rap” which adds to the irony since the lyrics are rapped and a mention of hating Depeche Mode which has become a running joke as there was a rumor that the band’s name stood for “Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode.” (It doesn’t.) Why is this song so pivotal aside from being hilarious and dangerously catchy? Look at any band shirts from KMFDM in the 90s and look at any fan posts online about them. You’ll see this: “KMFDM SUCKS!” This is especially funny when non fans see it and think people are bashing the band (they aren’t)!

The band is one of my personal favorites and this album is my absolute favorite from them. I am happy to make this the first entry into my series of essential albums from the 80s and 90s. Even if you do not like them or this type of music, please do yourselves a favor and check this one out.

…And remember: “KMFDM SUCKS!”