IT'S FUN TO STEAL
The Mono Puff Syndicate Of Sound:|
Hal Cragin, Steve Calhoon, Joe McGinty, DJ ***** Spicy Phil Hernandez, Sister Puff Robin Goldwasser, John Flansburgh
The Mono Puff All-Stars:
Mauro Refosco, Frank London, Dan Levine, Lady Puff Kate Flannery, Plen-T Pak, Ghost Krabb, Heaven, Jay Sherman-Godfrey, Mark Feldman, Rob Cournoyer, Eric Schermerhorn, Barry Carl
Produced by Pat Dillet and John Flansburgh
Recorded in large rooms with small windows in New York City and small rooms with no windows in Brooklyn
Design Barbara Glauber / Heavy Meta and even more design Beverly Joel / Heavy Meta Cover Photo Catherine McGann
The debut second album from Mister John Flansburgh and friends, this long awaited followup to 1996's Unsupervised brings Flans to Restless-Bar/None, the original home of his "other" project They Might Be Giants, and away from the green-tinted Rykodisc universe. (The word Restless does not appear anywhere on this CD however, as it has been released for whatever reason fully under the Bar/None umbrella). This time out, instead of the dueling-guitar surf rock stereophonic splendor of Unsupervised, It's Fun To Steal finds Mono Puff in full-blown funk mode, and as such the record is filled with wah wah pedals, heavy thick distortion, disco string arrangements, and a welcome infusion of primitive synth bleeping sounds and drum machines, resulting in a distinctive pop sound rooted in both 1970's and 1990's philosophies, filtered through Flansburgh's ever-inventive mind. One can see why he named his group of cohorts the "Syndicate of Sound", as this recalls a '70's cop show/blaxploitation feel. Perhaps he's flexing his "Bomb Squad - Public Enemy" influence here, as he has publicly stated his love for said rap organisation. This syndicate of sound bursts with musicians of all disciplines: Flansburgh, of course, on vocals, guitars, and various synthesizers and drum programmers; bassist Hal Cragin, drummer Steve Calhoon, pianist Joe McGinty, DJ ***** Spicy Phil Hernandez on record scratching, bongos, congas, and the like, and finally John Flansburgh's wife Robin Goldwasser, AKA Sister Puff, also of her own band Spondee, on vocals. Helping out as well is a huge group of musicians known as the Mono Puff All-Stars: guitarist Jay Sherman-Godfrey, vocalist Barry Carl of Rockapella, trombonist Dan Levine, ex-They Might Be Giants lead guitarist Eric Schermerhorn, vocalist Lady Puff AKA Kate Flannery, percussionist Mauro Refosco, trumpeter Frank London, violinist Mark Feldman, drummer Rob Cournoyer, and Plen-T Pak, Ghost Krabb and Heaven from the bizarre hip hop outfit Double Dong, providing human beatbox, rapping and dirty French whispering. There is even the humorous suggestion that Trini Lopez and the Blow Monkeys show up to provide hand clapping, which, if it were true, would certainly answer the question of what's happened to the Blow Monkeys. The record is produced by John Flansburgh and Pat Dillett, the producer of Mono Puff's album Unsupervised, They Might Be Giants' album Factory Showroom, their forthcoming album Severe Tire Damage, and engineer on several of their past albums.
It is to this record's credit that the songs contained within still inspire excitement in the listener after having been released in bits and pieces countless times in numerous forms. Eight of the songs in varying stages of completion were issued as two EPs as part of Flans' Hello CD of the Month Club in 1996 (as the Steve Calhoon Years and the Hal Cragin Years) though most subscribers did not receive them until mid-1997. Nonetheless the excellence of the songs made up for the Hello discs which were promised but were never released (which these two Mono Puff discs replaced) and the delay in receiving them. All of the material was heretofore unheard by Mono Puff fans save for two songs: Imaginary Friend, previously performed at live shows and on radio programs as Felt Tip Pen, with slightly different lyrics, and Hillbilly Drummer Girl, a Young Fresh Fellows cover, also performed at live shows. Comprising the rest of the two discs were the six songs Poison Flowers, Mr. Hughes Says, Backstabbing Liar, What Everybody Knows, Night Security, and Dedicated. With only four songs per disc, and a combined running time of only twenty minutes, this small taste of Mono Puff to come was all anyone could get their hands on for quite a long time, and was undoubtedly played and played and replayed, until...
One day Bar/None issued a promotional cassette of a new Mono Puff album as it had been completed to that point, and it was called It's Fun To Steal. At first glance it seemed that this cassette merely contained the eight songs from the Hello EPs along with a handful of newer songs: Creepy, It's Fun To Steal, Dashiki Lover, and the rare Sister Puff track Pretty Fly, a cover of a song from the superb 1955 suspense film Night Of The Hunter, and previously available only on the B-side of the Rykodisc/Slow River 45 single for The Devil Went Down To Newport. However a closer listen revealed one small difference: a new intro for the song Dedicated (retitled Dedicated Friend for this cassette) which was not heard in the original Hello version. Most interesting and exciting was the inclusion of a completely new, re-recorded faster version of Backstabbing Liar, with the original Hello version nowhere in sight, leading one to believe that this new version would be the one included on the final CD release of the album, and that in all other respects, the track order and mixing of this promotional cassette was the blueprint for the record. But...
Lo and behold, with the release in May 1998 of the final complete CD of It's Fun To Steal, this long sordid saga finally comes to an end. Or does it? The CD contains two new, previously unreleased songs, Taste The Bass and Extra Krispy, and additional changes have been made to the
material comprising the promotional cassette. Among the differences between them:
The title track, It's Fun To Steal, is followed by the song Poison Flowers on both the promo cassette and the CD. However, on the cassette, one song segues into the other, and on the CD, they are separated by total silence.
The version of Dedicated on the CD does not include the intro heard on the promo cassette version, but does add a long extended outro not heard before. This means that there are now three mixes of this song, each slightly different, none containing both the new intro and new
On the promo cassette, the song What Everybody Knows (retitled I Just Found Out What Everybody Knows for the CD) is followed by Pretty Fly, and the end of What Everybody Knows segues directly into the background swamp sound effects which mark the beginning of Pretty Fly. On the CD, Pretty Fly is followed by What Everybody Knows, therefore no such segue between songs is represented.
The third such segue is the most interesting. On the promo cassette, the song Mr. Hughes Says segues directly into the opening notes of the new version of Backstabbing Liar. On the CD, these two songs are not anywhere near each other, and, most amazingly, the version of Backstabbing Liar which does appear on the CD is the original Hello version and not the new promo cassette version, meaning of course that this new version is only available on the promo cassette, thereby relegating this new version to rarity heaven. Some feel that it is a
superior version to the one which appears on the album.
There is also an added bonus along the lines of "Token Back To Brooklyn" on TMBG's record Factory Showroom: wind It's Fun To Steal back approximately two minutes from the top of the first song to uncover a very strange but hilarious hidden oddity mentioned nowhere in the liner notes.
Backstabbing Liar is being positioned as the first single to be released off of the album, so there is still a chance that the new recording of the song will somehow be made more widely available. As for the rest of the final version of the CD, undoubtedly it does represent the best complete presentation of all of the disparate material which Mono Puff has recorded over the past two years. However, if you are a completist, you will find value in collecting the original Hello EPs as well as the rare promotional cassette, for they all contain material not
available on the final CD. Their July 4, 1996 NPR appearance on the radio program All Things Considered is also a notable recording for it features an early live performance of Imaginary Friend, then called Felt Tip Pen, complete with original lyrics.
So, the word on Mono Puff is that Flansburgh and company have crafted a fine pop record which fuses the excellent Unsupervised approach with the delicious lick of funk and disco, to create a unique sound worth hearing (and hearing again).
(Thanks to Michael Rose of JournalX for the preceding writeup)
Fun To Steal
Mr. Hughes Says
Taste The Bass
Hillbilly Drummer Girl
I Just Found Out What Everybody Knows