Welcome back to Canadian Rawk Week!
BARSTOOL PROPHETS – Last of the Big Game Hunters (1997 Mercury)
This album, the third and final by the Barstool Prophets, was the one that got me into the band. You can blame T-Rev for that. Unfortunately this album was also the last for the Prophets. They never really hit the big time, even though it was certainly deserved. Their biggest claim to fame is that they had to change their name from their original, The Wallflowers. Some guy named Jakob Dylan owned that one. Therefore, their first album was called Deflowered!
Barstool Prophets is a better name anyway. It’s more descriptive of this band. Picture solid Canadian bar rock, with the poetic lyrics to rival the Tragically Hip. Both bands are similar, and fans of one should definitely check out the other. For this CD, they got Joe Hardy (ZZ Top) to produce, and the result is a stellar collection of great sounding, upbeat yet rocking tunes.
I have a promo CD of this with a white cover. I also have the correct cover art for the retail version. The reason for this is, when I was living with T-Rev in our shitty apartment, some assholes stole his CD changer out of his Jeep, including his copy of this CD. The cover art was safely inside the apartment, but without a CD to go with it, it was a kind of useless thing. He gave the cover to me to augment my fairly plain promo CD.
The brief title track sets the stage perfectly. Witty words, guitars panned hard to the right and left, and an understated groove. That’s all you need, baby. According to the liner notes, “Barstool Prophets wrote the songs, Graham Greer wrote the words, and they slapped them all together.” The album and songs sound much more cohesive than that implies. “Last of the Big Game Hunters” is hooky, radio ready, tough and smart. It’s also short and to the point, as is the following song “Upside Down”. From experience, I can tell you that these songs work great on the road. I have done many, many cottage road trips with this CD in the deck. The first half of the disc is mostly rockin’ with some mellowness creeping in on the second. It all seems to work brilliantly.
My favourite song has always been the bulletproof “Vigilante”. This is about as intense as the Prophets get both musically and lyrically. Edgy but low-key spoken verses give way to the blistering chorus. Most people will have to research Bernard Goetz (I did), who is named in the incendiary bridge:
“I am prepared to carry out, without hesitation,
A cold and calculated act of intense dedication.
I am the store clerk forced once too often to his knees,
I am the few disgruntled Postal Service employees,
I am the widowed wife, left alone to carry on,
The grieving father, I, whose one and only child is gone.
I am the hand of Justice, with finger poised to test,
I am a bigger badder better bane than Bernard Goetz.”
It’s a powerful song.
Graham Greer shares one specific interest with me, which is UFOlogy. There are two songs on the album referencing them. The first is “Weird and Wonderful”, which musically is as fast as metal. The reference is vaguely to Betty and Barney Hill, one of the first documented UFO abduction cases:
“A family driving on a lonely stretch of highway,
Returning sadly from a very pleasant holiday.
Just then the starry night is filled with blinding light,
They’d later testify they’d never seen a greater sight.”
The gist of the song is that some things are just weird and wonderful; futile to explain. I prefer searching for the answers, but perhaps the Barstool Prophets have it right.
“Running Out” mellows things down a bit, with a melodic mid-tempo groove. It’s the radio hit “Friend of Mine” that you might remember though. What a great song. Shall we call it a ballad? I guess? Whatever — it doesn’t matter. It’s a blunt song anyone can relate to, about what true friendship means. “My views and dreams and favourite songs will shift and turn with the passing of time, but one thing for certain is you’d always be a friend of mine.” Even on the ballad (?), their knack for rhythm shines through. This is a great band — just the rhythm section players alone are interesting to isolate and listen to. The also goes for “Tangled Up”, an acoustic song that follows. Weaving words and rhythms seems to be this band’s forté. And they do it with an uncanny ability to write melodies too. Just astounding. How did these guys not become the biggest thing ever? Maybe it’s because it’s just too easy to compare them to The Tragically Hip. I daresay, Barstool Prophets wrote songs that were just as edgy and just as smart, but twice as catchy in the melody department.
About the only lull in the proceedings is “Five Wheel Highway”, a low-key slow grind on the pavement. It’s also the second longest song. It’s loaded with a harmonica hook, but it’s not enough to keep me interested. “More” brings us back to center, with a solid album quality track. It’s upbeat and it has those guitar jangles that I dig. “Hungry Joe” is amusing, a man who “lived in a dream, where he was a ladies man supreme.” Joe seems to get what he deserves, but the song is just another catchy one that probably sounded great live. “Get Along” then is a stomping body slam. It’s interesting lyrically and dramatic musically. Good mixture for cerebral rock and roll.
Back to UFOs one last time for “Thrusters”. Slow picking leads to quavering vocals: “I have spent many nights, staring at the sky…” It’s an unorthodox song, with no real chorus. “I know they’re coming back for me, but how much longer will they be?” I think it’s a haunting song, and it builds beautifully.
Last of the Big Game Hunters is still a fine album indeed. I’d put it on my top records of 1997 easily. Thanks T-Rev for getting me into it!