REVIEW: sandbox. – a murder in the glee club (1997)

sandbox. – a murder in the glee club (1997 EMI)

This is a fascinating album.  Sandbox (parsed as “sandbox.” on the album) had come out with a successful enough debut, but what we didn’t know then was how much ambition they had.  For their second CD, they did what most bands usually wait to do, much later on: the dreaded concept album! It is such a gamble to go for a concept album at all, let alone on your second record.

Setting the scene is the title track, “A Murder in the Glee Club”; but is all what it appears to be?  The liner notes state:

“Recorded as in introduction to a play in 1932 by Freddie Corn and the Ohioans, the song has sat dormant on a shelf for the past 65 years.  Shortly after it was recorded, the production was cancelled and the song was never released or published.  The version you hear on this record is the original recording, sonically enhanced and embellished using mordern technology.”

Hmmm.

An online search for “Freddie Corn and the Ohioans” reveals only one hit: an old interview with Mike Smith from the University of Western Ontario, which is only quoting the liner notes.

I always wondered if Sandbox were trying to pull the wool over our eyes a little bit with those liner notes.  You can draw your own conclusions but “A Murder in the Glee Club” does lull you in to the concept of the album:  Altered states of consciousness and mental illness eventually lead to murder.  Then, the murderer becomes haunted by the crimes he has committed.  That “1932 recording” really sets the mood right.

“…to red” is the first proper song on the album, and this is lyrically connected to the final track on Sandbox’s first album, Bionic.  It’s immediately obvious that the production, this time by Don Fleming, is far superior.  “…to red” is a vast improvement sound-wise over anything on the first album.  Performance-wise too; the band no longer sound stiff.  Singer Paul Murray seems less shy, and willing to stretch out his voice.  “…to red” is a fantastic up-beat start, with enough twangy-crunchy guitars to compensate for the pure pop that is the melody.  “I woke up with a different life, I was wondering where I’d been,” and the disoriented lead character is introduced.  This track was written by the uber-talented Mike Smith.  “Spin”, by Jason Archibald continues the story.  “I can’t believe you ran, I can’t believe you wanted out.”  When the character sings, “The Devil was my name,” then I get a bad feeling.  The music is darker, but driving.   The excellent guitar chops of Sandbox really make it enticing.  They leave a lot of space between the instruments so you can really hear what is going on.

“Spin” fades softly into “The Garden Song”, and it is clear that something bad has happened.  “They found you in the garden, arranged smile stained your face.”  While the lyrics are poetic it’s difficult to pay attention to them, because of the imagery they evoke.  The music is absolutely lovely, almost uplifting at times, but this has to be the darkest moment in the story.  “The Spectre”, faster and loaded with tasty backwards guitar, begins to deal with the haunted thoughts of the killer.  This is a duet with Mike Smith on second vocals.  You can picture this guy wandering through some a cold field somewhere, arguing with himself.  It’s an electrifying song, leading into the blitzkrieg of “Melt”.  This is the heaviest song Sandbox have ever done, blasting with a heavy chunk-tastic riff.  “Better stories, a better plan, this guy thinks he’s Superman, I think I’d like to smash his face with Kryptonite.”  I love that line.  There’s an intense feeling of anger.

Forwarding the story, “If I Tell” reveals regret, and delusions.  The killer now wishes he could bring his victim back, but he certainly isn’t willing to confess.  He justifies this by saying that he’s just protecting those whose lives would be impacted by his confession, perhaps family or friends.  Jason Archibald plays what sounds like electric sitar recorded backwards.  Then, “Self-Contained”, the best track on the album steps forth with a powerful, catchy riff.  This was the first song to really jump out on first listen.  “I hate the way I’m self-contained,” sings Paul Murray, wishing he could escape the insanity.  But the really crazy thing is, even though we know what’s gone on before, taken individually anybody can relate to the lyrics.  “I wanna feel the rush, of an electric song, I wanna be in love, it turns me on.”  On first listen, you’re not going to follow the concept of the album completely.  This song jumped out at me, and I always loved the lyrics, even though I hadn’t pieced it together with the rest of the album yet.

“Carry” was a the lead single/video, and an upbeat pop rocker it is.  Guitar jangle and steady beats provide what you need for a hit, only it wasn’t.  (For shame.)  Perhaps it just wasn’t edgy enough for rock fans in 1997, I don’t know and I don’t understand why Sandbox were not absolutely huge.  Jason Archibald’s “Missed the Day” is a beautiful, softer ballad.  The guitar and vocal melodies are ace, but I also like listening to the drums of Troy Shanks.  Brilliant song with its own hit potential, untapped and wasted.

I remember visiting the Calgary Zoo when I was younger.  The most haunting image in my mind was a polar bear named Snowball who paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…endlessly.  (Read more here.)  When Snowball finally died, I am sure I was not the only Canadian who believed that he was probably better off.  Watching that bear, having long ago gone insane in that tiny enclosure, pacing back and forth was one of the most difficult lessons Young Me had to learn about our relationship with nature.  “Bear Bear” was not inspired by Snowball, but by a similar bear at the Metro Toronto Zoo.  It fits into the concept of the album only metaphorically.  Musically, it’s quite jagged and drony, in a strangely catchy way.  This is a powerful song!

According to the liner notes, “How I Feel” was written by Mike Smith, and was lyrically inspired by seeing the Spice Girls on Saturday Night Live one night.  He pulls no punches:  “I’ve been watching all the sheeple of the world, Masses flocking to the mindless shit they’ve heard.”  Musically, it’s brilliant and very 1960’s in vibe.  The electric piano brings me back a few decades.  On this song, the lead character simply cannot connect with people — he is baffled by their behaviour, their words and beliefs.  And he resents them.  “Will you even notice when I go?  I’ll be leaving here when I say so.”

The final track for this dark concept album is “A Question of Faith”, with sparse echoey guitars and a plaintive melody.  What you hear and what someone else hears may be two different endings altogether.  You decide what it all means.  The song is brilliant, and emotionally heavy.  Yet it also feels like release.  A great weight lifting.  “A Question of Faith” is as well crafted as everything else on A Murder in the Glee Club.

I have said in the past, that if I had only bought this album in the year 1997, it would have made my top albums list (published in our store newsletter) that year.  Alas, I did not get it until early in the new year.  If I had got the CD in time, it definitely would have been on that list.  It’s truly a shame, but this second CD proved to be Sandbox’s last album.  Mike Smith had no problem finding fame elsewhere, as his career as Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys has certainly skyrocketed!

5/5 stars

 

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15 comments

  1. I’m not all too familiar with this one but based on your review, I must think about checking it out. I do remember the video for “Carry” being filmed at Parkwood, the home of Samuel McLaughlin in Oshawa.

    Liked by 1 person

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