This might be the most “mature” Papa Ghostface CD from the first phase of our existence. Some of our most accessible songs sit alongside some of our most twisted creations, and it feels like it glues itself together as an album pretty well (which wasn’t always the case with our earlier work).
Filth of Your Love is driven by some of the best rhyming lyrics I ever wrote, with an ending that sounds like a happy drunken sea shanty. Time Again is almost a pop song by our standards, while Sinkless Man is a bluesy strut delivered in the character of a cynical homeless man. Sand Paper nicks the bass line from the Steve Miller song “The Joker” and grafts a completely different vocal melody on top. I’m still not sure why I ever thought that was a good idea. But just between those four songs, there’s some of the best wordplay on any PG album, and some of the catchiest music we ever committed to plastic.
Then things get a little stranger.
Piece of Crap in Your Shoe is one of the weirdest PG songs ever, starting out as some kind of warped metal/electronica hybrid on bad drugs before disintegrating into vocal insanity. Something Pink isn’t far behind, with a crazed mid-section that comes out of nowhere, mutating and intensifying the weird energy floating through a monologue that sounds a little like a nervous breakdown set to music (really it was just something I wrote to pass the time when I was supposed to be paying attention in high school parenting class). The mandatory macabre spoken word piece shows up in the form of What They Had Was so Pure — a tale of high school sweethearts reunited that takes an unexpected turn at the end. It has a crafted feeling that sets it apart from some of the other early “talkies”, though a lot of it was improvised.
I’m convinced some of Gord’s best guitar playing of all time is preserved on this album. His work on Narcotic Girl and Rabbits and Leeches is improvised sexiness of the highest order. I mean, on Narcotic Girl the guy manages to draw what sounds like genuine feedback from his guitar while playing through our old friend the Digitech effects box, with no actual amp to speak of in the signal path. How do you even do that?
This album is also notable for marking the exact moment I first figured out how to bend a guitar string — an accidental discovery you can sort of hear happening during my bridge solo on Letting Go. That was a happy day.
The long, subdued Rabbits and Leeches has always been one of my favourite tracks, with its moody slow burn gaining momentum as it goes. And Letting Go features a mini-song after the fade-out, à la YOU’RE A NATION, with Gord playing some very tasty acoustic guitar. There’s even a hidden track I recorded on my own that involves the castration of then-Prime Minister of Ontario Mike Harris by 911 workers via gunshot wound, followed by a heartfelt message to all the nonexistent Papa Ghostface fans in the year 2000.
We recorded this album in a way that was a little different from anything we’d done before. This time I wrote the lyrics for almost all of the songs instead of improvising them, and instrumental tracks were recorded before the vocals — sometimes even before I had written words to work off of. Half the time I was showing Gord already-finished songs. The other half of the time we improvised some music and I figured out what to sing on top of it later.
In the case of Narcotic Girl, I wrote three different sets of lyrics that had nothing to do with one another and tried singing at least two of them before I came up with something that felt right. I never would have taken that much time to figure out what was best for a song before. It felt like taking a little extra time to put the album together — months instead of weeks — and giving each song ample space to determine its own shape paid off. It didn’t hurt that we’d both come a long way as musicians by now.
All of that combined to form an album that felt like a more cohesive piece of work than anything we’d done up to this point. Instead of just slapping the songs down in the order they were recorded, this time I even gave some real thought to the ebb and flow of things, as with SHOEBOX PARADISE — arranging the songs based on what felt like it would create the best movement from one track to the next. It would be the last time I would deviate from chronological sequencing on a non-compilation album until the PAVEMENT HUGGING DADDIES EP in 2004.
I had a larger studio space at my disposal now, having moved into a new house late in the making of SHOEBOX PARADISE, and just as we were finishing work on this one I traded in my eight-track mixer for a shiny new sixteen-track. The only song that got a chance to benefit from the increase in tracks was Narcotic Girl — one of the only pre-STEW Papa Ghostface songs to feature a real drum kit.
I thought this album was kind of patchy for the first few years after it was finished. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because there was more structure than I was used to hearing on our CDs, and a little less insanity. At one point I considered erasing all the drum loops and replacing them with real drums, thinking that would make all the difference. I’m glad I didn’t end up doing that.
Time has revealed this to be some of our best work just the way it is. It’s a little crazy to consider that it’s the work of the same sixteen-year-old guys responsible for the first few Papa Ghostface albums.
Funny story: I entered Time Again in the 2000 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. It felt like a song that was approachable enough not to scare anyone off but skewed enough to stand out in a sea of saccharine pop pablum. It was catchy but it had a brain in its head. I was even nuts enough to think we had a shot at winning.
I’ll never forget the day the contest results were released on the internet. Gord and I asked our law teacher if we could leave class for a few minutes to see how we did. She gave us the go-ahead. We raced to the library as if we’d already won, only to sit down at a computer and feel our hearts sink as we learned some unoriginal love song took home the prize and we didn’t even get an honourable mention.
We never stood a chance.
Filth of Your Love
Piece of Crap in Your Shoe
What They Had Was so Pure
Rabbits and Leeches