Record Review (Creem, 1991)
It's been a busy year for the Scarsdale quartet Too Much Joy. Last spring, Giant reissued their second indie album, 1988’s Son of Sam I Am, including a remix of their hilariously white version of L.L. Cool J’s “That's a Lie.” In the summer, while recording a new album, Cereal Killers, the group flew down to Hollywood, Florida to restage the notorious 2 Live Crew gig and get busted for obscenity. (This was before they got thrown off a fall tour by some longhaired guys from England.) Finally, with the obscenity charges pending, Giant issued Cereal Killers, not a radical departure from Son of Sam, but still something of a quantum leap.
Not only are the playing and singing significantly more proficient and textured, and better arranged and produced, but the lyrics are also less smirking. Certainly, Cereal Killers is just as alienated, but the bluff, ironical surface reveals more of the misfit’s vulnerable interior. Tim Quirk sings poignant, if fragmentary, tales of a village idiot playing in his consumerist sandbox, secretly wishing mayhem on the other customers, feeling ashamed at night, trapped in a book about someone else (maybe Evel Knievel), waiting for a train that never comes and having no luck with the girls in the music biz. This isn't entirely a joke.
Bassist Sandy Smallens once described TMJ as “Nineties Beach Boys meets Lou Reed”—matter meets antimatter. They play with pop references (actually, everything between the Beach Boys and Lou Reed) only to turn out weird doubles and evil twins: the ponderous “hard-rock” anti-anthem “Nothing on My Mind,” for example, or the flawless power-pop “Crush Story,” an anti-love story which might have been recorded by the Raspberries in their cynical last days. According to “Theme Song” (which echoes the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Hippie Boy”), TMJ is like a “hip Good Humor truck” spreading “peace and harmonies”; but here's the catch: “to create, you must destroy.” Too Much Joy melts down pop idioms to make inside-out ice-cream bars.
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First published in Creem magazine (February, 1991)