Crash Test Dummies

Give Yourself a Hand

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By 1999, Crash Test Dummies probably figured they would never be hip in America, so they made partial concessions on Give Yourself a Hand. If you have trouble getting past Brad Roberts' awkward singing and writing, then maybe innovative breakbeats and arrangements might obscure them. The results are exactly what you'd expect -- an instrumentally progressive pop album, completely neutralized by embarrassing lyrics and vocals. Give Yourself a Hand redefines the Dummies sound with lightly applied techno strokes, not far off from Everything But the Girl's classic Walking Wounded. Some textures here are stunning, with electric piano flourishes and hip-hop drumbeat samples that sound tunefully great. The Dummies exhibit an unexpected knack for drum'n'bass shadings in "Pissed with Me" and "A Little Something." Unfortunately, the beauty of the surroundings can't compensate for Roberts' singularly strange lyrical "talents." The Dummies make the amateur mistake of confusing smugness for detached insight -- one of their traditional problems -- and inject strange scatological and guttural references to promote their indifference. This approach fails: the words become odd, desperate attempts to sound distant and invulnerable ("Stop frickin' with me," "I love your goo"?) that end up laughable. There's also the problem of Roberts' voice, the thrice-deep baritone which, depending on your taste, is either brazenly different or horribly cloying. On Give Yourself a Hand, it's more the latter, an intrusion by someone attempting soulfulness through bad vocal inflections. On songs already saddled with deliberate unintelligence, like the opening, "Keep a Lid on Things," that's a recipe for disaster. The songs sung by Ellen Reid fare much better, especially the beautiful "A Little Something," which at least gives voice to vulnerability. The potential in that song is great enough to make you wonder what might have happened had the Crash Test Dummies been less concerned about not looking like chumps.

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