Take That You Bastards

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The Coolies were, first and foremost, a joke. Thing is, they were a joke who could back up the giggles with solid musicianship. (Guitarist and primary songwriter Rob Gal in particular is an impressive talent.) This 1995 CD collects the contents of both of their albums, 1986's Dig? and 1988's Doug, along with three previously unreleased tracks. Dig? is worth a few chuckles, but it's not the best introduction to the band: a goofy collection of Simon & Garfunkel covers, sticking to the duo's best-known songs, done up in a variety of styles, plus a horrible version of Paul Anka's "Havin' My Baby," Dig? is fun to play at parties and an impressive overview of the Coolies' skill at tackling varied musical genres -- a Dick Dale-style "Mrs. Robinson" is particularly fun -- but it doesn't reveal what the group was genuinely capable of. Doug, however, does. One of the great unheralded albums of the whole Southern pop/DB Records scene, Doug is a tongue-in-cheek rock opera about a skinhead who kills a transvestite short-order cook, steals his recipe book, and becomes an overnight celebrity when the cookbook becomes a nationwide best-seller. Surprisingly, the story has actual moments of pathos, but the really remarkable part of Doug is the way that each of the 13 songs is performed in an entirely credible approximation of a different band. For example, "Coke Light Ice" is a dead-on impersonation of mid-period Replacements, and the glammy "Doug!" is pure Gary Glitter. (Led Zeppelin, mod-era Who, and John Lennon also get the Coolies treatment.) Doug is both fun as parody and a genuinely interesting, listenable album. The three bonus tracks, recorded in 1989 as demos for a never-completed third album, are comparatively normal and not essential.

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