The Swirling Eddies : Outdoor Elvis
(Alarma, 1989; 54:00)
When I was visiting my parents last month, they remarked that there were some boxes of my things out in the garage, and suggested that I might sort through them to decide what to keep and what to toss. I had a wonderful time digging through everything. I found course notes and exams from my undergraduate days (keep), some old trophies I had won in elementary school — for academics, not athletics — (keep), and even my baby book (keep). I also found a box of old cassette tapes and CDs that I had purchased in my youth, mostly between about 1988 and 1992. This cassette by the Swirling Eddies was among them.
Outdoor Elvis was one of my favourite albums at that time in my life, and guess what? It’s still pretty terrific. The Swirling Eddies were — or, I suppose, are, since their most recent album is from 2007 — one of the many brainchildren of Terry Taylor, the mercurial mastermind behind Daniel Amos and the Lost Dogs. I don’t know how many records Taylor has made in his life; dozens, probably, and each toiling in undeserved obscurity. I have not heard them all, but there are at least a few masterpieces among them: MotorCycle (from 1993) is a brilliant and beautiful record that gets better every time I hear it, Horrendous Disc (from 1978) has achieved whatever legendary status is available to an album that hardly anybody has heard, and, in my judgment, Outdoor Elvis also belongs in this distinguished company.
The Eddies were founded as the slightly goofy, high-spirited alter ego of Daniel Amos, and there are moments of pure comic tomfoolery here: a musical therapy session (“Coco the Talking Guitar”), a herky-jerky robotic exhortation (“Don’t Hate Yerself”), and, of course, the (sort of) famous sing-a-long “Arthur Fhardy’s Yodeling Party” (which I was singing in the shower this very morning, and to good effect). But the fascination of the record partly consists in the way this forthright comedy lies cheek-by-jowl with more serious fare. This was the period in which televangelist scandals were leading the nightly news, and a touch of anger creeps into the campy “Hide the Beer, the Pastor’s Here” and “Attack of the Pulpit Masters” (with its auctioneer-style chorus: “moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney”, etc.). But there are bits of quiet, bemused reflection (“Strange Days”, “Blowing Smoke”) and some seriously ambitious songwriting (“Outdoor Elvis”, “Hell Oh”) on the record as well. It’s an album that seems to always have a new idea up its sleeve, always something more to offer, and, maybe surprisingly, all the bits and pieces fit together into what feels like a cohesive whole.
I’m not sure how to describe the style of this music. It’s rock. There’s a bit of White Album-era Beatles, a bit of the Beach Boys (with a dash of vinegar), and a bit of a bunch of other influences. A comparison to They Might Be Giants would not be out of order. Anyway, it’s good music, and this is a really good record. I am glad that I found it again.
Here is one of the songs from the album, called “Driving in England”: