When I bought Strippers Union’s 3- The Undertaking from their website last year, they threw in their debut album Local 518 from 2005 for free! Well dang. It ain’t often that I get free music around here! Don’t worry though, my opinion of the album isn’t tainted by the bribe. My enjoyment of it is genuine.
Just in the case of anyone who is not in the know, Strippers Union is the love child/side project of The Tragically Hip’s guitarist Rob Baker and Odds frontman Craig Northey. The two share the songwriting duties while the rest of the band consists of bassist Doug Elliott (Odds), drummer Pat Steward (Odds), and Simon Kendall (Doug & the Slugs) on keys.
If you’re a fan of the Hip and Odds, you might be imagining Hip-style riffs with Northey melodies on top. And you would be right for a song like Lost Lost Highway which is a very Odds-like tune peppered with Rob Baker’s signature guitar fills. But, the roles in the band for the two main contributors are fluid. Baker takes lead vocals on Bulletproof White Limo while Northey rocks the guitar solo. This song is very Hip-like and I could see Gord Downie singing it if he was to have made a cameo.
But they don’t just swap between Hip and Odds styles. Give Up & Go Away has Hendrix meets Zeppelin feel with Baker doing backward guitar fills while Pat Steward hammers out a John Bonham-like beat. I was surprised to see The Kids In The Hall member Dave Foley listed as a co-writer for it since I don’t recall him doing any songs with the comedy group. Bruce McCulloch was always the one singing about the Daves he knew. Anyway, Everybody Knows The Words is another example of the band branching out. The rhythm section plays like they are Revolver-era Beatles on valium while Northey’s vocal melody ties it in with the rest of the album.
No One Watching is probably my favourite of the bunch because… now stop me if you heard this one already… of Northey’s Brilliant lyrics. (I think) the song is about a troubled woman who accidentally fries her brain when a radio falls into the tub that she was bathing in and she eventually dies. This verse is about the candlelight vigil that follows her death:
The lions sleep beside her urn
Her mp3’s make Limewire burn
Her ballads sung sadly by candle light
The crowds rained out by the second night
All the stuffed animals lie soaking wet
The flowers and the notes and the mess that’s left
The words read eerie and dark but you hear them differently within the context of the upbeat slightly Latin beat of the song. It is a contrast that shouldn’t work but does.
The album does lose a bit of steam towards its second half for me. After the tuba and clarinet intro of Local Bear, the songs become samey. Interesting at times, like Horses & Trains has an acoustic rhythm guitar mixed with a Police-like electric reverb fills, but the songs have the same laidback or surreal vibe. Sweet ‘N Low is the exception with a Lenny Kravitz-like slow groove and full horn section. The Hip’s Gord Sinclair got a co-writing credit for it so that could explain why it stands out. But, whatever. Debut album and stuff. They were still trying to find their footing.
Local 518 is quite solid overall with its first seven songs being absolute bangers. Even with its few first album stumbles, I found this album was best played while clearing out the cobwebs during my morning commutes. The coffee hadn’t kicked in yet and I needed something that would vibrate my teeth like Van Halen or put me back to sleep like Pink Floyd. As Goldilocks would say, this was just right.
The odds are you need more Odds/Craig Northey/Strippers Union in you:
[Album Review] Odds | Neopolitan
[Album Review] Odds | Bedbugs
[Album Review] Odds | Good Weird Feeling
[Album Review] Odds | Nest
[Album Review] Craig Northey | Giddy Up
[Album Review] Northey Valenzuela
[Album Review] Strippers Union | Stripper’s Union Local 518
[Album Review] The New Odds | Cheerleader
[Album Review] Strippers Union | The Deuce
[EP Review] Odds | The Most Beautiful Place On Earth
[EP Review] Odds | Game Face On
[EP Review] Odds | Party Party Party
[Album Review] Strippers Union | 3- The Undertaking