The Bears started recording songs for their third album, Car Caught Fire, a mere four years ago (there's nothing like not having a record deal to allow one the luxury of time). It's not likely they'll remain without a label for long. After all, The Bears is composed of such longtime cult mainstays as Chris Arduser, Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger, and Adrian Belew, representing bands like Psychodots, The Raisins, and King Crimson. Fear not, fearless musical listener, this is not a Belew side project for here he blends effortlessly into a member of the band. Indeed, the song writing duties are split almost metrically with each member getting an even share. Even the drummer gets two songs in, and these aren't Ringo songs either. The .002% of the readers familiar with the two earlier Bears projects will be pleased to hear that The Bears have continued their practice of filling an album with well-crafted pop/rock songs. "Life In A Nutshell" opens the album with an acid-tinged Mersey Beat, a song that would have fit on Belew's Inner Revolution album. "Caveman" is the oldest song on the album (a ripe eight years) but full of ratty, distorted guitar and a primal rock beat. In the touching "Dave" Fetters sings about when he was fourteen and his best friend committed suicide- touching without being saccharine. The only song written by all The Bears is "Waiting Room" which has a very odd vocal effect on the verses, a cheesy organ, and the great lyric "I've put a lot of pavement on my shoes / Made a lot of payments on my dues." "As You Are" feels much like vintage Elvis Costello, albeit with seven guitars stacked high, and "Safe In Hell" finds the singer humorously "free from [his] creditors." My favorite track, and indeed the one that prompted me to buy the album, is Belew's "Mr. Bonapart", an odd counterpoint to "I Am The Walrus" with a staccato guitar rhythm and an eerie refrain of "I live in my lonely mind" woven throughout. You can hear this song, order, the album, and see a disturbing flashtoon video of this song at www.thebearsmusic.com. Despite this blinding bright spot, the album suffers a bit from inconsistency. Perhaps it's due to the variety of singers and writing styles (although all of the styles are derived from The Beatles and all the songs are full of catchy melodies) but you finish the album feeling that as good as it is, it could have been better. Were I a tenured third grade teacher named "Velma", I'd give this album a B+. Fortunately, my secret life has yet to be discovered so I'll just say it's a really good album of 60's-derived pop songs.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, October 2001.