WAS (NOT WAS) "Boo!" Ryko

Was (Not Was) is back on the scene with catchy tunes on its latest release, "Boo!"
Was (Not Was) is back on the scene with catchy tunes on its latest release, "Boo!" (By Ellen Stone)
Friday, May 2, 2008

WAS (NOT WAS)"Boo!"Ryko

WHEN A BAND takes off 18 years between albums and then the members try to recapture in their 50s the magic they had in their 30s, the results are usually embarrassing. But "Boo!," the first Was (Not Was) album of new songs since 1990, is full of improbably catchy songs.

Catchiest of all is "Crazy Water," the story of how "the senator's son and the president's daughter" went downtown to try the public baths and the after-midnight discos. The song works because Sweet Pea Atkinson's terrific R&B vocal and Don Was's funky bass groove could plausibly lure "suckers and cynics" to the forbidden side of town. The resulting cross-cultural collision is captured by the lyrics that describe a public-bath orgy as if it were a riverside baptism.

Don Was (a.k.a. Don Fagenson) and David Was (a.k.a. David Weiss) were junior high friends who ventured from the suburbs to downtown Detroit much like the characters in the song. They were so entranced by what they heard they conjured up their own version of it in 1980 as Was (Not Was), convincing great soul vocalists such as Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens to sing about dinosaur pets and the JFK assassination as if the songs were Motown singles. The group had two Top 20 pop hits in 1987-88, released one more album and then quit.

Now they're back, and it's as if they'd never been gone. Bob Dylan gets a co-writing credit on "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," Kris Kristofferson does the film-noir narration on "Green Pills in the Dresser," Tom Cruise is skewered on "Semi-Interesting Week" and almost everything sounds like a dance party.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Saturday with Todd Snider at Ram's Head Tavern (410-268-4545,http://tickets.ramsheadonstage.com). Show starts at 1. Also appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere (703-549-7500,http://www.birchmere.com). Show starts at 7:30.

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