REVIEW: sandbox. – Bionic (1995)

Part one of a Sandbox two-fer!

sandbox. – Bionic (1995 EMI)

Because it was the 1990’s, and you had to do stuff like this, Sandbox referred to themselves as “sandbox.” with the period at the end.  This being 2015, in this review we’re just going to call them Sandbox.  Sandbox were very, very 1990’s with some melancholy music and an abstract album cover of an apple with nails in it.  There is no reason for this that I can tell.  It may well have just been, “Hey, let’s make this apple look like the guy from Hellraiser.”

Sandbox were from Nova Scotia, and have two really interesting connections.  One, the lead singer Paul Murray is the nephew of Anne Murray, who made “Snowbird” a national treasure back in the 70’s.  Two, the lead guitar player was a talented fellow named Mike Smith.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, then you know Mike Smith as his Trailer Park Boys alter-ego, Bubbles.  I saw these guys opening for the Barenaked Ladies back in 1996 and was impressed by the six tunes they played.

The big hit was “Curious” and it’s still fantastic once you get past the trendy 90’s-isms.  (By that I’m referring to the watery, distorted vocals, lack of a solo, and simple construction.)  But damn, what a song.  All the right parts are there.  The guitar riff works its way into your brain effortlessly, and the band provide all the necessary backing.  Paul Murray is not a singer of remarkable range or power, but his voice works with the music to create a a wave that washes over you.  Mike Smith and the band are more than capable of providing melodic backing vocals.

The problem with the Bionic album was that it had a couple really strong, powerful songs and a lot that didn’t have the same impact.  “Collide” is a good song, but it plods along without enough excitement.  It doesn’t get you moving.   I think a few of these tunes worked better live.  The studio can be a stifling environment, and it took Sandbox an album to really grow in the studio.  “For You” boasts a strong chorus hook, but again not enough spark.

“Decisions”, dark quiet and slow, boasts a great chorus and impassioned lead vocals.  It is augmented by a nice cello part, which works so well for dark tracks such as this.  “Decisions” is a standout on the album, with a big part of that being due to the cello.  More songs on Bionic would have done well with some augmentation like that.  “Grief” is similarly dark, but edgy.  I dig the backwards guitar solo, a touch I have always loved in rock music.  “Three Balloons and a Trapdoor” is the kind of song title I find annoying, but the cello is back.  It’s a sparse little acoustic song without much else going on with it besides the cello.  It sounds like a side closer, and that’s the exact position it occupies on the CD running order.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

“Here and There” is the first song that rocks in a while, and it’s very welcome.  It could have used more hooks, but it gets the job done well enough.  It takes advantage of the jangling guitar chords of Mike Smith and Jason Archibald.  Then, “Live” is a fantastic song.  Where sometimes, Sandbox’s songs seem to lack sufficient passion and memorable melody, “Live” completely delivers.  I feel the sadness, and I can swim in the melodic vocals like a river.  “Flux” and “Weatherman” are both OK. “Flux” has a nice hard beat and a chorus I can get into.  “Weatherman” is sparse, acoustic and intimate.

The last amazing tune, on a par with “Curious”, is the incredible “Lustre”.  A simple guitar lick coupled with another killer chorus is all it takes.  A classy acoustic guitar solo just makes it all so perfect.  It’s hard to describe just what makes the song click, but it has clicked with me for almost 20 years, so there must be something good going on here.

The final track is the slow and dull “And the Mood Changes…”, followed by silence and then a strange distorted spoken word bit that always struck me as another 90’s gimmick.  I was wrong, it is actually the first part of the second Sandbox album, which was a concept album called a murder in the glee club.  This spoken word bit is meant to lead directly into the beginning of that album, a story of a killer who is tormented by what he has done.  And speaking of that second album, what an album it was!  Sandbox obviously benefited from the studio experience on Bionic, because what they achieved on a murder in the glee club was something quite special and fantastic.  But that’s another review.

3/5 stars

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35 comments

  1. Never heard of these guys and when I listened to the track here, I had to check the TV to make sure Friends wasn’t on. Sorry, the song reminded me of that theme tune. However, I do sense some potential in them so I shall await your next review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha look at Bubbles! Had no idea about all this but, given all his appearances with bands it doesn’t surprise me that he had done something like this in the past. So, did you know about this before you knew him from TPB or do you find out about it because of TPB?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I listened to this album recently for the first time in over 10 years, and I didn’t like it as much as you in 2015. I probably would have gave them a 3 in the 90’s, but it sounds so dated to me it would probably be closer to 1.5. However, since it has Bubbles, I will bump it to a 2.

    I think the post should end with Lebrain speaking to Mike Smith at a concert in 1996, and telling him that he should start a low budget tv show where he plays a lovable character that wears thick glasses. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish that happened dude! But when I saw Bubbles the first time, I was like, “Holy shit, I remember him.” Even without the glasses he had a very distinct look…as you can see from the videos.

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    1. I enjoyed writing the review for the second album, so I hope you will like reading it. That’s out tomorrow. The problem with this band is, there is very little info out there about them. I had to do a little research for the second review and it was hard to find info.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I know, they should do a reunion now! Unfortunately their second album was their last.

          They should release something, a best-of or what have you. Anything! But who knows, a band like that might not even own the rights to their own songs…depends on the deals they signed right?

          You can’t imagine how disappointed I was that they never made a third album. On the other hand, the second one is a hard album to top.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. So does Russell Crowe. It’s called 30 Odd Foot Of Grunt. I like that name. Cant stand him, never heard the music, but I like that name. Johnny Depp plays. Robert Downey, Jr. made an album. So did Minnie Driver (or was it two?). Kevin Bacon makes music with his brother. Hell, Scarlett Johansson made two albums (one is Tom Waits songs, the other was with Pete Yorn). Kevin Spacey made an album of him singing Bobby Darin songs. It’s endless.

        I’ll bet there’s a whole post worth of Actors Making Albums, if anyone is interested in taking it on. Of course, there are probably web sites that list all this crap, easily found after two seconds on the Googles…

        And as you can imagine, there are a ton of sites. Here’s one:

        http://www.dyers.org/blog/archives/2006/03/03/the-megalist-of-actors-who-tried-to-sing/

        So never mind. As BNL said, it’s all been done.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. True…I hate lists :)

          But this is a very different situation. It’s not an actor who makes music, it’s a musician who somehow got on TV. He was a sound man post-Sandbox, and they said, “Hey Mike, you know that funny character that you used to do in the back of the tour bus to entertain the guys? Let’s put that guy on camera.” Trivia fact: Bubbles was NOT in the Trailer Park Boys pilot movie. He was an afterthought.

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  4. That is such a no-effort CD cover. As a very superficial person, I would never have bought this. Oh and from now on you can call me 1537. because I think that makes me more cutting edge and rad.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have this. On cassette. It’s another one of those from back in the day. I still haven’t watched any of the TPB so if you hadn’t said anything a while back about that guy being in TPB, I wouldn’t likely have known. Or cared? I dunno. I’ll get to the TPB eventually. But I do remember these guys from back then. Curious… that song for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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