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Spotlight on: Jamboree by Beat Happening

Cover of Jamboree by Beat Happening Beat Happening, Jamboree

The second full-length release from the Beat Happening (after their self-titled debut and an EP collaboration with Screaming Trees) finds them showing all sides of their collective personality. Jamboree contains eleven songs--due to the punk aesthetic, covering only twenty-four minutes--that range from the powerful, catchy "Bewitched" to the seeming test of listener tolerance "The This Many Boyfriends Club."

"Bewitched" begins Jamboree with feedback and some nice grinding fretwork. Calvin Johnson easily holds our attention with the repeated chorus of "I've got a crush on you." I'm consistently amazed at how simple a song can be and still be entertaining, and "Bewitched" is a perfect example; it appears to be composed of only two chords yet is immensely satisfying. Heather Lewis follows with the beach rock-influenced jangle pop of "In Between." I find myself continually drawn to her offerings. Neither of them is a particularly great singer but the difference in Calvin and Heather's vocal styles makes one a respite from the other and doesn't let monotony get in the way of a solid listen.

Calvin returns for another venture into what is essentially Beat Happening's forte: love songs of either nostalgia or longing. The plaintive "Indian Summer" is a highlight of the album, with memorable lyrics and a sweet tone. "Hangman" (along with "Bewitched") show signs of the darkness that would dominate the recording of Beat Happening's next work, Black Candy, with its tale of an executioner who seems to enjoy his job a little too much but otherwise is just a normal Joe. I love it.

Jamboree's title track is actually one of the low points of the album, seeming to have been recorded on the fly, but it's improvisatory feel is charming. It is the first of three tracks that each come in at around a minute. The sound on "Ask Me" has a bit of echo, but Heather's a capella rendering of the musical question "Oh, hey, well okay, aren't you gonna ask me what I did today?" is nonetheless engaging. A fuller production is evident on "Crashing Through," but it still makes a lesser impression than "Ask Me" simply due to the catchy pop feel of the latter.

"Cat Walk" is a distinctly humorous ditty that begins with Calvin observing his girl out with another guy. He doesn't mind ("he's an okay fella," "she's got a bad habit of being pure"), but wishes "she'd leave my sweater home" while doing it. "Drive Car Girl" and "Midnight A Go-Go" are musically similar--the one feels almost like a continuation of the other--with Calvin offering comparable vocalisms. The only difference is that "Midnight" ends with Calvin (and whoever happens to be guitarist on this track--it's not always easy to tell on Beat Happening records) getting a little excited at the end, making it a slight improvement on its predecessor.

The less said about "The This Many Boyfriends Club," however, the better. Playground noises, atonal guitar and Calvin defiantly following an unidentifiable melody combine to make a very unpleasant listening experience--and it's the longest track on the album. It ends with a girl's scream and Calvin throwing the microphone down, just for good measure. Jamboree may be less than half an hour long, but it would be much more enjoyable if this track were completely left off. You've got to say this for the album, though: it puts all its good eggs up front and, realizing that it won't entertain forever, at least attempts to be experimental.

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