The Chinch Bugs – that fun pop-rock quartet that often features a lead oboe – is back with a third album, Broke. This time the band tackles their sincere observations on life without bassist Louise Sherman. Scott Wolf joins the band on bass, adding a slightly grungier style to the pop-ish mix.
Upon even a first listen, the album is noticeably darker than the previous two. Earlier albums used humor to point out the sad realities of life while sometimes adding a touch of heavier rock to the pop-rock beat familiar to fans of The Chinch Bugs.
Broke does maintain the humor of The Chinch Bugs while dealing with current affairs, such as the economy, drugs, and death. However, the upbeat, pop sound is discernibly absent from much of this third album. With earlier albums, a listener could feel somewhat elitist, sipping a bubbly while enjoying the band’s mocking of déclassé celebrity. Broke hits audiences with a harsher dose of reality.
The album’s title song, “Broke,” relates like many news stories today. Verses tell unfortunate stories of losing one’s fortune, including someone falling ill without health insurance. The Chinch Bugs tells us, “don’t try to save yourself with a song, ‘cause when you hit the skids there’ll be nobody singing along.” Broke is an apt title as this song sets the mood for much of the album. It is an observation of what we hear daily about the state of the USA.
It may be why The Chinch Bugs end their album with Jim Sexton’s rockin’ plea to unearthly beings in “Take Me Away.” The song is filled with head bobbing and foot stomping power chords. The lyrics take the narrator through a nighttime encounter with space aliens. He runs scared at first, then discovers he wants to leave this place of doom and gloom behind. Devotees of The Chinch Bugs will smile favorably on the clever lyrics of “Take Me Away” – “I thought I was doomed, I soon could be dead. They read my mind and it said take me away.”
Between the title and the final song, The Chinch Bugs waver through a dichotomous mix of songs. Life is sometimes rough, which is a good reason to laugh a bit, but not too much.
“Meg Likes the Weed” provokes a more familiar sound from The Chinch Bugs, thanks to a bouncy lead on the oboe. Typically fun lyrics from The Chinch Bugs, like “she gets so high from the weed, flying like a pterodactyl,” make this song a fan favorite.
Perhaps the best hidden gem of Broke is Lila Karesh’s “Lizard’s Dress.” The opening line of the song grabs one’s attention with a smile, “she worships Jim Morrison, her husband doesn’t seem to mind.” It is a solemn, but flippant, song about a woman’s escape into the world of the Lizard King. “There’s no reason to doubt her state of mind, it’s just the way she lives.”
“Chardonnay,” which features a cameo by Badfinger ringer Joey Molland on lead guitar, has the easily identifiable groove of earlier work by The Chinch Bugs. Yet, this song’s minor key along with its depressed lyrics of regret are more typical of what listeners will find on Broke.
Fans of The Chinch Bugs should not be scared away by the band’s growth into a heavier, edgier sound. The album has a healthy mix of pop-rock and grungier hits. It is also flowing with the glib lyrics that listeners appreciate.
The official album release party for Broke will be Sunday, January 1, 2012 at Cause Spirits and Soundbar, Lyndale and Lake St, Minneapolis, 8:30pm, no cover.