It’s been 17 years since the Crash Test Dummies released the multi-platinum selling album God Shuffled His Feet, but it’s hard to forget that this Winnipeg band was — in the midst of grunge — one of Canada’s most successful acts.
For a lot of people, Brad Roberts’ deep baritone voice and sweet, folk pop melodies were the perfect antithesis to the constant barrage of flannel and angst-filed distorted rock.
But, while the band wasn’t exactly a one hit wonder — Superman’s Song, Mmm Mmmm Mmm Mmm and XTC cover The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead were all popular — it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the stronger grunge became, the weaker the Crash Test Dummies’ future looked. It didn’t take long before the masses lost interest; the band officially faded out in 2004.
Roberts could have left it there, but this year he revived the Dummies name, teamed up with original member Ellen Reid and, last week, released Oooh La La, the group’s ninth record.
It’s an unexpected return — there weren’t many people clamouring for a Dummies reunion — and even Roberts was surprised.
“I started writing, with (producer) Stewart Lerman for fun. Purely for the sake of making music,” he says on the phone from New York. “It sounded so good to me that how could I not promote this record?”
While he’s excited to get back on stage, he admits that he enjoyed not playing music. Being recognized on the street had gotten to him a long time ago and he could do without record label pressures and not making any money, the real reason why he wound down the band.
“In 2004 I realized I couldn’t continue making records because I wasn’t making any money,” he says. “I couldn’t afford to p— away money on vanity projects.”
Those were tough times, but these days he’s a little wiser. He’s stripped the group down to three members, they are playing intimate acoustic shows, and the band is only touring 10 days at a time.
While it’s too early to tell how the reformed band will be received, his new album is interesting. He wrote most of it using an optigan — a keyboard from Mattel that plays a bunch of pre-recorded, full-band sounds. Roberts basically recreated the sounds, with a live band, that the instrument played and then added vocals and other musical flourishes on top.
It’s easy to tell that this is a record made by someone who doesn’t care about sales anymore; it’s relaxed and fun. But it probably won’t make Roberts rich again. And, perhaps the most impressive part about this comeback is that he’s ready to deal with success or failure this time around.
“If I don’t make money I will retire again,” he says. “If I do make money I’ll release another record.”
Bryan Borzykowski is a business and entertainment writer. Follow Metro Music on Twitter @TheMetroMusic