Published Feb 01, 2000If the demographic for today's pop music keeps getting younger, then the new Rheostatics record is one step ahead - it's a children's concept album entitled The Story of Harmelodia , from a band who've rarely met a grand ambition that they didn't like. Now scattered amidst various extra-curricular activities, it takes a project the size and scope of Harmelodia to focus their collective energy.
"We kept thinking, 'Omigod, this is going to be the biggest record ever. How are we going to fit it all on one CD?'" laughs drummer Don Kerr. "There's narration and soundscapes and 14 songs, but it's actually the shortest Rheostatics record."
Harmelodia is the tale of two children who get lost on the way back from music lessons and wind up in the alternate universe of Popopolous, where the crazed Dr. Drumstein teaches them how to play fantastical instruments like the wingophone. Packaged in a hard-cover CD case with an illustrated book by Bidini and guitarist Martin Tielli, this is anything but an ironic, half-assed attempt to euphemise the dreaded concept album.
"As a children's record, it allows you to make a concept album without feeling like Rush," says Kerr, who released his own children's book and CD earlier this year, The Sniffing Princess . "It's a fairy tale instead of a Genesis concept, which is almost the same thing, but it's more magical than drug allusions or whatever. It's psychedelic in the sense that it should be like a cartoon, instead of something lofty," he continues, citing Yellow Submarine and Harry Nilsson's The Point as his favourite kids' records. "I kept thinking of bands like the Olivia Tremor Control and all these new prog bands who are doing the weirdest stuff in the world with all this cool art."
It still sounds like a distinctively Rheostatics album, complete with wide-screen production from returning associate Michael Phillip Wojewoda. Their more playful side sits comfortably beside heartfelt numbers, unlike on a "normal" Rheostatics record - whatever that is.
Kerr, who admits that it's not a "first listen" record, says the album has been already subject to focus groups of the band's own children and relatives. "After a few listens," he assures, "children and adults alike start walking around singing, "Monkey bird, monkey bird...'"