The Dirtbombs Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! (In the Red Records)
Only a band that truly loves bubblegum pop, and doesn't think of it as silly kid's stuff or some quaint artifact from yesteryear, could make a record filled with as much gleeful abandon as Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!
I'm roughly the same age as singer-guitarist Mick Collins, so I'd imagine that he also discovered the phenomenon while it was happening in the 1960s and '70s. I remember watching The Archies on TV—I read the comic books, too—and listening to the Ohio Express on the radio—specifically "Yummy Yummy Yummy"—and thinking music couldn't get much better than that. And in my little child's eye view of the world: I was right.
Instead of a collection of covers, however, like Ultraglide in Black (soul and funk) and Party Store (Detroit techno), OGCK! consists entirely of originals. It's a risk, but those who've been following Collins since he fronted the Gories in the 1980s know that he likes a challenge, and that he almost always rises to the occasion.
The most surprising thing about the album, though, is how closely it aligns with the rest of the Dirtbombs' discography, proving that bubblegum has always been part of their DNA. If the music doesn't completely break the mold, the lyrics tell another story, because Collins is a worldly, well read individual, qualities that are antithetical to bubblegum, which celebrates the simple pleasures. Anything too heavy would wreck the flow, so he sets aside his real-life concerns about global warming and government surveillance in favor of ice cream and carnival rides.
But there's a fine line between bubblegum and glam, and the group crosses it a few times, especially on "Jump and Shout" and "Hey! Cookie," where they dirty up the sweetness with fuzz bass, cowbell, and their trademark double-drumming. That isn't a bad thing, by any means. On the contrary, it helps to keep kitsch at bay, though the tone is lighter than ever—no more so than throughout "Girl on the Carousel" where Collins comes on like a starry-eyed boy doodling hearts in his notebook rather than the black-clad cat who once shouted about nitroglycerine.
Kasenetz-Katz production from my collection
At 29:40 minutes, Ooey Gooey plays more like a mini-album than a long-player, but that's the way these records used to work, and anything much longer might overstay its welcome (even then, padding was the name of the game when the singles were the thing). Like candy, bubblegum intends to be pleasurable and addictive, not nutritious and fulfilling, which means that one spin is either too much or not enough. Nonetheless, I'm not totally won over by "We Come in the Sunshine," which features a too-obvious nod to "Good Vibrations," but at least they acknowledge the debt by citing Brian Wilson in the liner notes (they also make sure to make sure to include Kasenetz-Katz among the list of thanks).
The band's attention to detail extends to the Gary Panter painting on the cover and the Lee DeVito illustration on the back, both of which reference The Archies. And for those who act fast: 200 copies were pressed on bubblegum-pink vinyl. Now I just need the t-shirt, the lunchbox, the buttons, and the stickers.
In the Red Records releases Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! on Sept 17.