Another fine mess: 20 years of the Boneheads

(And Steve Jones)
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 1, 2010

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STICK AROUND A WHILE The Boneheads and Steve Jones.

It can be easy to put the Boneheads in the same category with Rick Charette. Is Rick Charette a great songwriter and musician? Yes. Do people get his songs stuck in their head for days at a time? Yes. (Have kids? Well, enjoy singing "I Love Mud" to yourself for the next week.) Will you have a good time at a Rick Charette show? Absolutely.

Do I take Rick seriously? Not really. In fact, I mock the Press Herald every time the Rick Charette Band wins its annual poll for best band in Maine. The Boneheads? They call themselves the Boneheads.

But, if the most people like you, you're the best. If people keep coming to your shows and enjoying your music, you're good. That's the way popular music works. And it's not by accident that the Boneheads are celebrating this month 20 years of making music that people sure do seem to like.

Critics like "serious" bands. The liner notes for Above Average Songs, a Boneheads compilation put out by Charlie Gaylord's Cornmeal Records, make it clear the band know exactly where they'll probably stand with the critics: "We actually enjoyed playing music. That made us about as commercially sellable as gout."

That was true enough in the early 1990s. Record execs were freaking out about the Seattle sound and everyone was targeting the disposable incomes of angsty teenagers.

Nowadays? Anything goes. Are there still record execs? If Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, and Michael McDonald can still draw, doing Beach Boys and Curtis Mayfield covers, then the Boneheads might very well be ready for a renaissance.

Quality might even be important now, and the 18 tracks on this disc are definitely above average. "Another Fine Mess," the opening track here, and distributed to the local-music-loving masses on GFAC 207, Vol. 7, is the band in a nutshell for me: a love for all things genre (in this case, surf-rock); pristine vocals, both lead and chorused backing; crisp playing on a wide variety of instruments (Bob Colwell's Hammond here is cool as hell); and just a little bit silly (um, the robot voice?).

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STEVE JONES

Take them seriously? Don't even think about it. If you do, you might discover real pathos in "Harder Hanging On," one of the simplest tunes here, stripped down to acoustic guitar, some snare, a subtle bass, and an accordion. It's a nice pulling-back of the curtain on a band that puts forth a facade of always being happy as hell: "Isn't life so lovely, isn't life so sweet/Just when you get the hang of it/It knocks you off your feet." They could be talking about a relationship or their music career: "It's so hard letting go/But harder hangin' on."

Except they probably don't really care about their "music careers" that much. Women? Well, those happy-go-lucky types can make easy marks, and "Hang with Your Rope" says it pretty well: "You broke my heart, just to ease your mind/I was feeling too good, for you to be kind."

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