REVIEWS

THE ODDFELLOWS
Bugs And Hisses [BigO Records]

 

The power of rock 'n' roll. That's a hackneyed cliché if there ever was one. But what the hell, if the shoe fits... And what a snug fit that phrase proves to be for this compilation.

This writer was sorely disappointed when guitarist/vocalist Patrick Chng decided to can the Teenage Head/Carnival reissue. Although I've got both albums, I thought that the reissue would let a new generation of fans see what they had missed out on. It would also be great for those who had missed the Oddfellows the first time round.

So I was mightily chuffed when I learnt about the Bugs And Hisses compilation. For someone like me who already has both albums, it's even better than the aborted reissue.

Everything on this B-sides and rarities compilation is either previously unreleased or never before released on CD. And that includes some historically important material. The performance of Your Smiling Face from a Botanic Gardens gig from 1988. The original recording of Riding In Your Car from the Phooney Accent single. A rendition of So Happy with the bridge. The real rarities, such as the elusive Teenage Head, after which the Oddies' debut album was named even though the track never made the cut. And the various live recordings from the band's performances at the now-defunct Moods pub over the years. As a bonus, you'll even find five remastered tracks originally intended for the Teenage Head/Carnival reissue.

My favourite though must be the rough mix of The Song You Said I'd Never Write, one of the few songs salvaged from the lost sessions for the third album. It is easily one of the best songs ever written by Chng. My long-faded memory of their 10th anniversary gig at Moods in February 1998 tells me that this song was so new when they played it, that Chng only referred to it as "Untitled #2." I fell in love with that song that very night, even though I've only ever heard it once since at another gig. But I've never really forgotten the melody and fragments of the lyrics, and it all came rushing back when I heard it on the review CD.

And that what makes this compilation such a great release for me. It triggers plenty of fond memories, flooding back unexpectedly as the familiar tunes are blasted out of the speakers. And it reminded me of the power that the Oddies (who include guitarist Kelvin Tan, bassist Vincent Lee and drummer Johnny Ong) are capable of in their live performances, the redeeming power that makes a person feel that rock 'n' roll can really save his soul.

I think I'm driven by more than mere nostalgia when I say that this compilation revived my interest in music, in much the same way that Song About Caroline on New School Rock I opened my eyes to the brave new world of rock 'n' roll. So many of the performances found on Bugs And Hisses contained so much energy and power, that they really revived my faith in and passion for rock 'n' roll. I'm only exaggerating a little when I admit that whenever I listen to this compilation, I slough off my jaded life and I feel alive and revitalised again.

I dare you to listen to Chng's decidedly ragged vocals on Song About Caroline from their 1998 Moods gig, and not be moved by the intensity of his singing. The same goes for the other live tracks included on this compilation (well, maybe except for the gorgeous rendition of She's So Innocent for a radio broadcast), into all of which the band clearly pours its complete collective hearts and souls.

Those who have never seen the Oddies in concert in their full glory would never really understand what I'm talking about. There is a variety of reasons the band commands such a strong following among local music fans. Their longevity. Their persistence. Their songwriting. And, most of all, the sheer commitment of their live performances. Catch them playing their best songs on a good day, and you will become a fan forever.

My review copy of the compilation was an unmastered CD-R. While some of the tracks sounded pretty good, the sound was horrendous on many tracks, particularly the old recordings. The mastering may have cleaned and padded up the sound, but don't come expecting top class high-fidelity recording. You won't get it from Bugs And Hisses. Then again, that's not what this compilation is about.

This compilation is about letting everybody who wants to, have a glimpse at a side of The Oddfellows that not too many have had the privilege of seeing and enjoying. It allows those in the know to relive the heady moments of sheer rock 'n' roll ecstasy shared between themselves and the band. Those who are not, can at least get a feel for what it was like. Such moments are truly rare in Singapore, where foreign bands rarely visit and local bands flatter to deceive more often than make a connection. But with the Oddies, there were such moments on a regular basis, many of which are collected on Bugs And Hisses.

I'll be upfront about it. I'm a huge fan of the Oddies, and I've never made a secret of it. Not only are they my favourite local band, they are one of my favourite bands from anywhere. I don't think that that has coloured my opinion of Bugs And Hisses; if anything, it has allowed me to view this compilation in its proper context. And that place is right at the top of the heap, where the Oddfellows rightfully belong. (10) - Xiao Jinhong

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