Ashtray Boy

Candypants Beach

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Continuing the two separate-but-equal lineups from Macho Champions and with his world view still very much intact (what else could be expected with the lead song called "Dead Body in the Surf"?), Lee leads his merry men through another fine collection of songs on Beach. More than before, Ashtray Boy is a collaborative effort; while Lee is still clearly bandleader and main man, many songs are written with other members or the group (or at least one incarnation of the group) as a whole. More instrumentation crops up as well; besides the saxophone from last time out (this time played by Ingrid Spielman), xylophone, accordion and woodblock are among the credits for the bandmembers, lending many songs fun and fine extra touches. While the tendency has been to describe Ashtray Boy as pop satire in some critical circles, the band's songs actually have as much straightforward appeal as anything else, for all the lyrical goofiness. Thus, "Chicken" may have lines about "being employed in the egg-laying booth" or "lazing in the laying shed," but Lee's slide guitar work and the song's general jangle makes for just plain fine music, to sway and smile to. Similarly, "Road Kill" speaks of having "decapitated a possum last night" and thus saving on the food bills, but the music gently grooves along as always. Since the music isn't as quirky as the words, it helps Lee and company avoid the novelty trap, here even more so than before. In the "unexpected but works all the better for it" category, meanwhile, Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" gets nicely Ashtrayed by the Australian lineup (with Tallis on "girlie" and Johnson on "blokey" backing vocals). In turn, Trumfio gets to take the lead vocal turn on "The Smallest Christmas Tree" and "Toothpaste."

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