What do you get when you combine the Pixies, the Byrds and Talking Heads? Well, interestingly enough, the answer is Fred Clark’s latest album Happy Fun, Too. Although lacking some of the sophistication of its competitors, the album makes up for it, with its instantly hummable melodies and compelling delivery. The lead vocals remind me at times of David Byrne, and whether it is intentional or not, the effect is a kind of experimental garage album for kids.
Fred Clark clearly understands that kids love rock and roll, and I’m not talking about Bill Haley here. He is part of a growing trend of bands, particularly from the USA that are introducing a more grungy style of family music to the masses. The album also benefits, from a high melodic content and sweetness of delivery, perhaps a result of the songwriting contribution of his wife and the enthusiastic performances of his children.
The party really gets started with the title track “Happy Fun, Too”, which combines the rawness of the Ramones with some cute almost Kim Deal type harmonies. “Alien Robot Party,” is definitely a track for the cool kids, and is officially my favourite ever title for a kids' song. Here powerful drums and driving bass lines sit alongside sweet harmonies, singing about aliens in search of chocolate cake.
There is a superb guitar hook on “Kids Rock” and lyrics which pretty much sum up the ethos on display here. “Monkeys in the Kitchen” has an intriguing spoken vocal accompanied by some grungy guitar, leaving the listener dazed and confused but keen to hear more. “Funky Pizza Dance” is great to dance to, and “Pirate Pickle Party” is the strangest pirate song you will ever hear, with its percussive drumming, deadpan vocal and bizarre sound effects.
The spoken vocal technique is again used on “I’m Doing My Homework” venting the frustrations of homework overload, which we can perhaps all relate to. “Redbird” has a great bass line, and describes the observations of a child witnessing the graceful movements of a beautiful bird. Perhaps the most unusual track on the album is “ABC Twinkle Sheep”, which merges the alphabet with a selection of famous nursery rhymes, with a drum intro reminiscent of the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”.
This album is truly one of a kind. The music peers into the darkness, and yet the lyrics are joyful, light and even humorous at times. The songs are consistently strong; with memorable melodies that are easy to dance to. There is a no nonsense approach here, what you hear is what you get, and I love it for its raw simplicity and you will certainly hear it blasting out of my car. Fred Clark is possibly the Black Francis of kids’ music, and if he ever plays in Australia count me in!