Death, Loss, And Sophisticated Weirdness
The last time I was able to experience the rare pleasure of purchasing an all-new Barnes & Barnes album was 1991, so discovering "Opbopachop" was quite a treat. It's 2009, exactly thirty years after the infamous "Fish Heads" single was unleashed upon the world, and there's one thing that Art and Artie Barnes seem to agree upon: They're old, and everybody around them is dying.
Coming to grips with mortality makes great songwriting material. The lyrics dealing with the loss of friends and family are introspective, thoughtful, perhaps even thereputic on some level for the boys. "Our Dead Dads" is a fond farewell with a hauntingly beautiful piano melody. "Oh, The Pain" is Art Barnes' catchy and whimsical tribute to actor Jonathan Harris... or perhaps, simply a nod to one of the characters he played. "Napnoop" is a suite of seven segments, of which the rollicking shanty "Ask Me If I Care" and the childishly eerie "Mama, Where's Papa?" are very memorable. "I Am Stevie" is from the point of view of a deceased child (Artie's brother?) looking back innocently at the world of the living. Other songs of decrepitude and death include "Old Queens" and "So Long Mama," the latter being quite remarkable in a simple way. The album closes with "Ice Cream Bed," a song of gratitude for all that is.
There are also many humorous and bizarre tracks which do not focus on the inevitable. Artie Barnes gives a spiritedly hilarious vocal performance in "My Bad," an exploration of everyone's favorite insincere apology. "The Pope Said Nope" is perhaps one of their funniest songs to date, a true piece of absurdism. "When Uncle Hy Takes The Train To Kansas City" is a brillant pop song which will doubtless spawn many interpretations of its unsettling lyrics.
Musically, the album has a uniform sound, with a wide range of styles. The overall tempo is slower than previous efforts, which seems only fitting for an album about middle age. Going back to their roots, spuzzle percussion once again makes an appearance on several tracks. The sound is not as heavily layered as previous works. There is a sophisticated simplicity to it all, both musically and lyrically. A refinement of all that is Barnes & Barnes.
Does "Opbopachop" hold its own against the extreme humor of today? Without naming particular bands and TV shows, suffice it to say there are few roads modern humorists are unwilling to travel. I would argue yes, because unlike much of today's lowbrow surrealism or blatent shock-value humor, Barnes & Barnes have the ability to portray extreme weirdness with substance behind it. There is an inherent psychological depth which will leave listeners variously confused, intrigued, uncomfortable, or highly amused.
Overall, "Opbopachop" is rather positive considering its subject matter. They do not dwell or brood, but rather explore and ruminate. It bears repeated listenings and is a unique addition to the B&B discography. A must for all fans of Barnes & Barnes, and highly recommended for lovers of esoteric and unusual music in general.