The Forgotten Arm: Oingo Boingo – Boingo

Usually, the music that gets unearthed in my Forgotten Arm features has been undeservedly overlooked by modern enthusiasts.  This exploration will be a little different, as we’ll take a look at an album that we’d all be better off forgetting.  For the sake of future generations, let’s subject ourselves to Boingo, the final album from Los Angeles favorites Oingo Boingo.

Already, some explanation is required.  First of all, know that Oingo Boingo is one of my favorite bands.  Not just one of my favorite new wave bands, but one of my hands-down favorites.  Of course, I most likely came to the film scores of Danny Elfman before going back to his pop days, but that theatricality is what made Oingo Boingo stand out from their peers.  Albums like Only A Lad and Dead Man’s Party are delightful listens, with Elfman’s dark yet humorous lyrics complimented by one of the tightest, most energetic bands of the era.  Oingo Boingo may have been a little weird (in fact, I’m pretty certain that they were), but they could always be counted on to be a lot of fun.

In 1990, Oingo Boingo released Dark At The End Of The Tunnel.  The album marked a slight shift towards a less playful tone, though the songs and hooks were still there in abundance.  With Elfman focusing more and more on his compositional career, it became clear that Oingo Boingo’s days were numbered.  The band re-emerged in 1994, having shuffled their lineup and shortening their name to simply Boingo.  They also presented a new (self-titled?) album, featuring the most dramatic change to their sound in the group’s decades-long career.  What once started as a goofball performance art collective in the early ’70s had made the jump into much stranger territory: ’90s alternative rock.

To be fair, this is the Boingo version of alt-rock, but the influences are overt and impossible to ignore.  Boingo begins promisingly, with “Insanity,” one of the album’s best songs.  A swath of classic Elfman orchestration guides the stream-of-consciousness lyrics that make reference to religion, society and mental instability.  The chorus of creepy kids is a nice touch, too.  The rest of the album isn’t so thrilling, as the band poses like then-chart toppers Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction far too many times.  Boingo’s songs had always been dark, but never this whiny or mopey.  There are a few ties to Boingo’s previous output namely Steve Bartek‘s guitar work, which is arguably the most impressive element on the album.  Overlong, aimless songs (all but three under 5 minutes, and one nearly 16) and generic arrangements make Boingo one of Elfman’s worst-written albums.

The most telling sign that this isn’t the Oingo Boingo that crashed your John Hughes house party is the cover of “I Am The Walrus.”  You may recall that Boingo covered “You Really Got Me” on their very first album, so you’d think that ’60s covers would be a skill.  However, their take on The Beatles‘ psychedelic masterpiece is done in the style typical of ’90s rock bands who do covers: imitative and loud.  So unlike to total deconstruction of The Kinks‘ hit that’s found on Only A Lad.  Danny Elfman retired Oingo Boingo in 1995, after a farewell concert on Halloween (a Boingo tradition).  Elfman’s made it clear that Boingo’s never coming back, which unfortunately leaves his band’s otherwise incredible legacy with this ugly curtain call.

Watch: Boingo – “Insanity” from Farewell: Live from the Universal Aphitheater (1995)

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~ by E. on August 5, 2010.

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