8. Hoodoo Gurus, Magnum Cum Louder
Hoodoo Gurus was one of my favorite band names to say on the air. It sounded silly and yet it didn’t. Those O sounds just begged to be elongated, the words stretching out and sloping up and down like the humps on an old wooden roller coaster. It wasn’t merely the odd pleasure of speaking their name that earned the band ample airplay at our station, of course. It was fun to say “Kajagoogoo” or “Chilliwack” at parties, but that didn’t mean their songs made the mix tapes that cycled through the stereo all evening. Hoodoo Gurus, on the other hand, came up with flat-out great guitar pop that fit in perfectly with the collective taste of 90FM DJs. They would have been a staple even with the dullest name imaginable.
The Australian quartet released their fourth studio album in the summer of 1989 after steadily building up their college radio bona fides for several years (they were more broadly successful in their home country, where radio took great pains to support national artists). They’d had a somewhat significant left-of-the-dial hit with “What’s My Scene?” off of the prior record, the very fine Blow Your Cool! so the pump was properly primed. In what may have been a little acknowledgement of their stateside college radio success, the album featured a title that riffed on a pompous honorific sometimes bestowed with advanced degrees, although the fairly ribald double entendre of Magnum Cum Louder arguably had more to do with the dorm room than the classroom. That brand of sly naughtiness was also present on the lead single, “Come Anytime.” It could certainly be interpreted innocently enough, but lines like “Come anytime, I await your pleasure” were enough to give anyone pause. Then again, maybe it all just seems dirtier when heard through the filter of the album that eventually followed which dropped any pretense of trying to hide their seamier side.
Regardless, the band sounded like they were trying to start the party with their guitars, and it’s hard to think of an approach better suited from the summer months, especially in a place like central Wisconsin, where the long winters make the sun-baked days feel like even more of a gift. Many of the songs on Magnum Cum Louder almost seemed genetically engineered to blast from car stereos, rolled down windows a necessity to let the bold notes escape. As good as the lead single was, the album rewarded DJs who dug deep to find songs like “Another World” and “All the Way.” Lead singer and chief songwriter had such a way with a pop hook that it could sound like he was trying to write a greatest hits album every time out. He may have given up on some sonic variance, but that sacrificed seems a small concern when the efforts of sterling songcraft parade off of the album. Besides, it’s not like the songs are a series of clones. The romanticized gloom of the ballad “Shadow Me” or added buzzy gnarl of both “Axegrinder” and “Death in the Afternoon”proved that Faulkner could expand his boundaries, if only modestly.
While hardly considered one of the band’s most significant songs, it’s possible that “Where’s That Hit?” maybe the track that best summarizes where Hoodoo Gurus were at that particular moment, artistically and professionally. For one thing, the song was built on puns and double meanings, Faulkner’s new favorite approach to crafting approach. On the surface, the song is entirely about baseball with references to loaded bases, the bottom of the ninth and even Shea Stadium. Really, though, it’s clearly about the band’s inability to completely breakthrough with widespread commercial success. The hit isn’t what the baseball fans are craving; it’s what the record company executives are demanding. “A kid with potential, they said,” could describe a young player jumping from the minors to the big leagues, but it’s undoubtedly terminology hung around Hoodoo Gurus from the moment they were signed. Other college radio acts were enjoying significant crossover success, sometimes with material that seemed far less likely to appeal to the mainstream than the songs Hoodoo Gurus were efficiently banging out. The band may have been able to make it to the top of the college charts, but that only put so many dollars in the bank.
By most measures, Magnum Cum Louder was the band’s peak. Their following album, Kinky (told you they weren’t being coy any more) did well enough, but it already felt a little like they were running out of ideas. There were a couple more releases after that–not counting the inevitable revival–but they were weak echoes and roundly ignored in the U.S. Magnum Cum Louder wasn’t exactly the sound of a band on top of the world, but it did have some qualities that indicated the group felt that they might be able to play just loud enough to make those perched on high hear the licks and notes they were dispensing. Maybe that was enough, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, it sure sounded good that summer to those of us who were, like the band, scuffling around the edges. Celebrations can be held anywhere.
20. Bob Mould, Workbook
19. The Rainmakers, The Good News and the Bad News
18. The Mighty Lemon Drops, Laughter
17. Couch Flambeau, Ghostride
16. Robyn Hitchcock ‘n’ the Egyptians, Queen Elvis
15. The B-52’s, Cosmic Thing
14. Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie
13. The Sugarcubes, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!
12. The Godfathers, More Songs About Love & Hate
11. Guadalcanal Diary, Flip Flop
10. The Pogues, Peace and Love
9. The Weeds, Windchill