Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Waitresses: “Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses” (2013) CD Review

The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” is one of the best Christmas songs ever recorded (second only to The Pogues’ “Fairytale Of New York”), and this song alone would make it worth owning the new collection of Waitresses material, Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses. But of course their big hit, “I Know What Boys Like,” is also included, as is their theme song to Square Pegs, a show I loved when I was a kid. Okay, you know those songs. What’s so wonderful (and surprising) about this collection is that the rest of their material is just as good.

This is such a fun collection of tunes, each song is worth listening to. These are punk-pop songs with interesting and unusual lyrics. In some ways, the lyrics are more straight-forward and honest than poetic – and, because of that, often have a great humor about them. Like this line from “Jimmy Tomorrow”: “I don’t want to be somebody else’s learning experience.” I love the last line of that song: “My goals are to find a cure for irony and make a fool out of God.”

All tracks are originals. This is really some of the best music the 1980s had to offer.  I love the vocals, the way Patty Donahue delivers a lyric. It’s part playful (and almost sweet), part rebellious (like on “Quit”). These songs have attitude, but never lose their sense of fun or play.

The first disc contains the band’s first full-length album, Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? (1982) and the EP I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts (also 1982). A lot of these songs are actually quite positive, even with some good messages. For example, check out the title track, “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?” with the lines “What’s a girl to do? Born to shop? No! Pretty victories/What’s a girl to do? Scream and screw? No!

“No Guilt”

Here are a few lines from the beginning of the opening track, “No Guilt”: “I know the cost of stamps now,” “I told them I don’t even know anybody in Toronto” and “I’ve been reading more and looking up the hard words.” Not typical pop lyrics, eh? And all of this leads to the line, “I’ve done a lot since you’ve been gone.” Yes, it turns out to be a strange sort of relationship song. It’s a it’s-over-and-I’m-okay tune, with lines like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel awful/It wasn’t the end of the world.” Lines you can shout at the world, at everyone who ever left. And it’s a song you can dance to. Ralph Carney plays a mean harmonica on this track, as well as saxophone. Turn it up and enjoy.

“I Know What Boys Like”

“I Know What Boys Like” is one of the coolest songs ever, and one I’m always excited to hear. It’s an oddly empowering song, because any girl who sings this automatically becomes sexy and desirable (while denying those who want them). She boasts, “I got my cat moves/That so upset them” and that it’s “fun to frustrate them,” “denied their candy/I laugh right at them.” And how hot is that whiny “na na na” part?

“Pussy Strut”

“Pussy Strut” is a great funky jazzy pop gem, with some odd scientific, mathematical lyrics. “Now factor in the range of variation as a function on a curve.” Just remember: “This is very scientific.” And: “Can’t you get more specific? No, I can’t get more specific.”

“Christmas Wrapping”

Later in 1982, The Waitresses released a five-song EP titled I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts, which kicks off with that delicious and delightful (and truly sweet) Christmas song, “Christmas Wrapping.” I can’t say enough about this song. It’s one of the songs that make me glad that Christmas exists. It makes me so bloody happy every time I hear it (and in December I listen to it at least fifty or sixty times – though it’s a Christmas song I can listen to at any point in the year). Dave Buck plays trumpet on this tune.

“Square Pegs”

Square Pegs was a show I watched every week when I was kid - for the brief time it was on, that is. (I had a bit of a crush on Tracy Nelson.) The theme song is fantastic, with spoken word verses from the perspective of a student – lines like “Don’t want to wear my glasses, I have to wear my glasses.” It’s such a treat to revisit this song. I’d love to see the show again. “One size does not fit all.”

The EP also includes “The Smartest Person I Know,” a great tune with a funky edge. “The trouble with you is you’re right/You’re the smartest person I know.” The EP’s title track is a live track.

This collection also includes “Hangover 1/1/83,” the flip-side to the “Christmas Wrapping” single. It’s a strange, kind of wonderfully messy instrumental tune.


The second disc features the band’s second full-length album, Bruiseology, which was originally released in 1983. It’s not quite as bright and cheerful as their first album, but it’s a really good record. In some ways, it’s a more interesting album.

It opens with “A Girl’s Gotta Do,” a kick-ass tune with a good groove. “Make The Weather” is an interesting tune, particularly its instrumental section. I really dig Mars Williams’ work on saxophone.

“Everything’s Wrong If My Hair Is Wrong” is an odd, humorous tune, describing a woman picking out her clothes, then with the repeated title line, “Everything’s wrong if my hair is wrong.” That song features some interesting work by Dan Klayman on keys.

One of the record’s obvious stand-outs is “Thinking About Sex Again,” partially because of the nice work on bass by Tracy Wormworth. But of course it’s mainly because of the vocals and lyrics. “Uh-oh, there I go thinking about sex again.”

The title track, “Bruiseology,” is another highlight, due in large part to Mars Williams’ work on saxophone, and also its great energy and intensity. This collection also includes an alternate version, which was previously unreleased.

“Pleasure” is a very cool instrumental track, and is actually one of my favorites, which is odd considering how much I love Patty Donahue’s vocals. Another favorite is “Spin,” a great dance tune with some funky bass taking the lead for a section near the end. “No map, no travel guide.”

Bruiseology’s closing track, “They’re All Out Of Liquor, Let’s Find Another Party,” begins with some glorious chaos on horns, then kicks in with a force. This song has an angry edge, offering some interesting advice.

“Bread And Butter”

The second disc also includes two other versions of “Bread And Butter,” which were released as a promo in 1983. The band stretches out on these tracks, and they’re a lot of fun, with the focus at times on the percussion. Each is just under seven minutes.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. No Guilt
  2. Wise Up
  3. Quit
  4. It’s My Car
  5. Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?
  6. I Know What Boys Like
  7. Heat Night
  8. Redland
  9. Pussy Strut
  10. Go On
  11. Jimmy Tomorrow
  12. Christmas Wrapping
  13. Bread And Butter
  14. Square Pegs
  15. The Smartest Person I Know
  16. I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts
  17. Hangover 1/1/83
Disc Two
  1. A Girl’s Gotta Do
  2. Make The Weather
  3. Everything’s Wrong If My Hair Is Wrong
  4. Luxury
  5. Open City
  6. Thinking About Sex Again
  7. Bruiseology
  8. Pleasure
  9. Spin
  10. They’re All Out Of Liquor, Let’s Find Another Party
  11. Bruiseology (Alternate Version)
  12. Bread And Butter (Remix)
  13. Bread And Butter (Dub Mix) 
Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses was released on September 24, 2013 through Omnivore Recordings. 

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