Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 22: Crash Test Dummies, "Superman's Song"

Artist: Crash Test Dummies
Song: "Superman's Song"
Album: The Ghosts That Haunt Me
Year: 1991

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

While breaking into the mainstream and finding commercial success is a daunting task in itself, when a band attempts to do this is a sound that is truly unique, the difficultly level becomes almost immeasurable.  This is not implying that the general public are not open minded enough to enjoy new sounds; but the music industry as a whole has proven over the decades that it is very resistant to change of any sort.  Yet there remain a few pockets in music history where the "rule book" was thrown out and countless new styles and musical approaches were able to flourish simultaneously, marking the most creative points along the musical timeline.  While the late 1960's certainly stands as an example of this idea, the truth of the matter is, the early 1990's was also an environment that encouraged great musical experimentation.  While gangsta rap and grunge were getting their footholds, there were a number of groups releasing music that defied categorization, and one can find a truly undefinable sound within the music of the Canadian pop-folk band, Crash Test Dummies.  While the band is perhaps best known for their unlikely 1993 hit single, "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," the fact remains that it was their 1991 debut, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, that contains the groups' finest music.  Bringing together almost classical musical arrangements alongside one of the most distinctive voices of his generation, the group truly made music unlike anything else ever recorded, and their true brilliance can be found one the amazing, somber dirge, "Superman's Song."

While countless artists have composed laments during their career, very few have so perfectly captured the mood of a funeral as is found on "Superman's Song."  The crying cello from Lynn Selwood is truly beautiful, and the fact that the group is able to bring this melancholy mood into the pop genre is a feat that in itself defies description.  Overlain with a equally gorgeous piano progression from Ellen Reid and acoustic guitar from Brad Roberts, the spirit of the song soars and "Superman's Song" is nothing short of blissful, regardless of the subject matter.  At times, the music seems to echo, furthering the feeling that the song is supposed to be "funeral-esque," and the fact that this is something that is heard, but does not actually happen serves as a testament to the amazing musicianship on the record, as well as the brilliant production work of the great Steve Berlin.  This mood never lets up, and the fact that these three non-traditional instruments were able to carry the song to moderate success within the pop world is nothing short of shocking, as well as a feat that has never been accomplished since.  The entire song features little more than these instruments, and as they wind through each section of the song, the listener is pulled further and further into a true emotional attachment with the music, as well as the subject matter.  The fact that this overall tone and mood was able to make headway in commercial sense is a massive achievement, as at the time, "hair metal" was on its way out, and there seemed to be very little, if any space in mainstream music for quieter, more mellow sounds. 

The soft, refined music of "Superman's Song" is brilliantly offset by the deep, baritone voice of one of the most instantly recognizable singers in history: Brad Roberts.  With a voice that is perhaps only comparable to the late Peter Steele, the way in which his rich, powerful singing contrasts the music is nothing short of stunning.  This contrast in sound, as well as the natural elements of Roberts' voice further reinforce the "church" feel of the song, and "Superman's Song" easily makes its case as one of the finest laments ever recorded.  Yet as impressive as both the music and singing are, the fact remains that the song was able to succeed whilst making commentary on two of the most famous figures in history.  The title gives away the theme, as the song is a lament for the fallen "Man Of Steel," and yet Roberts spins an amazing amount of social commentary within the words of "Superman's Song."  Spending most of the song contrasting Superman with the uncivilized ways of Tarzan, it is truly stunning that such a "silly" premise was accepted and remains such a truly touching song.  The true depth of Roberts' thoughts on this icon become clear when he brings up the fact that though Superman, "...could have smashed through any bank in the United States, he had the strength, but he would not..."  It is mall points like these where the song becomes more than just a comic fans' fiction, and Roberts begins to paint a picture of a truly great man, showing that even with great power, one must still have solid morals.  Furthering this idea, there are few lines anywhere in music history that are as heartbreaking, yet profound as when Roberts sings, "...and sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him..."

Though they are often relegated into the label of "one hit wonders," the fact of the matter is, Crash Test Dummies had already released an entire album of amazing material before the world caught onto them with their surprise 1993 hit single.  Though this single does capture their strange, alterna-folk sound, it truly cannot compare to their debut single, 1991's "Superman's Song."  Bringing together the perfect combination of musical beauty, lyrical perfection, and a voice that cannot be forgotten, the song remains the groups' finest work, and unquestionably one of the greatest songs of their generation. The fact that the group was able to gain radio play with nothing more than piano, cello, and acoustic guitar may have been understandable twenty years earlier, but the fact that they were able to do so in the waning days of "hair metal" and the rise of grunge is nothing short of baffling.  Yet it becomes understandable once one experiences the song and realizes that there is true sonic beauty within the song, and few songs this somber have withstood the test of time.  Furthermore, the fact that comic book fans across the world were able to "accept" this take on one of the most treasured superheroes in history serves as proof that Crash Test Dummies were able to walk the line and create a truly special song.  The voice of Brad Roberts is perhaps the key to the greatness of this song, as he is able to deliver this eulogy whilst simultaneously making the words ring true across all generations and all walks of life.  Though often forgotten behind their runaway single, the fact of the matter is, there are few songs as beautiful as Crash Test Dummies 1991 single, "Superman's Song."

1 comment:

Captain Jeffery Brown said...

Having recently rediscovered this song while looking for scores suitable to play at a local venue, I came across this article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this CTD Classic. It truly is a gift of time.