CD Review of Boo! by Was (Not Was)
Recommended if you like
Sly & the Family Stone, the Boneshakers, The B-52’s
Was (Not Was): Boo!

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


f all the unlikely success stories to spring from the ‘80s, Was (Not Was) has to be one of the unlikeliest: A proto-New Wave/soul outfit, named for two disheveled pretend siblings but fronted by a pair of old-school soul singers named Sir Harry and Sweet Pea, with a repertoire big enough to encompass everything from synth-assisted updates on the Stax sound to nonsensical, borderline-novelty cuts – and everything in between. (The “everything in between” included a number of wonderfully insane celebrity cameos – a tradition that continues here, but more on that later.) Against all odds, the band found a moment of purchase in the arid soil of late ‘80s MTV, spinning off a cornball hit in the form of “Walk the Dinosaur” (all together now: boom-boom-ackalackalacka-boom!) before going on a hiatus that lasted nearly two decades.

Of course, the years since 1990’s Are You Okay? haven’t been entirely Was (or Not Was)-free for fans of the band – Don Was famously forged a successful, Grammy-winning career as a producer of hit-starved greybeard artists, while Sweet Pea Atkinson went on to co-found modern soul group the Boneshakers. Still, it wasn’t the same, and for the handful of listeners who truly appreciated the strange sonic space the band carved out, their music was sorely missed. So here’s the good news: 2008 brings us a new Was (Not Was) album, titled Boo! Now for the bad news: It isn’t really a new album at all, at least not in the traditional sense. These 10 cuts are largely holdovers from earlier sessions, with a few new cuts sprinkled in. It isn’t an odds ‘n’ sods collection, exactly – it’s just that the band hasn’t had a record deal for quite a while, and without a deadline moving things along, these performances had no pressing destination. An album no one expected to ever hear, endlessly tinkered with for over 15 years – call it the skewed modern soul version of Chinese Democracy.

Was (Not Was)

Oh, and here’s some more good news: Boo! finds the Wases picking up exactly where they left off all those years ago. Earlier releases, though not without their fair share of ‘80s noises, were created in their own audio galaxy, which has enabled the band to avoid making the concessions to modern trends that are usually inevitable for out-of-mothballs projects like this one. All the old ingredients are here: Finger-snapping soul, tinged with acid wit; synth-ringed lunacy; and an oddball cameo (from Kris Kristofferson, who somehow makes it through “Green Pills in the Dresser” without falling down laughing). If you’ve loved the band’s earlier albums, you’ve got no reason not to rush out and get this one.

The main attraction, as always, is Sir Harry and Sweet Pea’s peerless vocal blend – and the pleasure of hearing them give life to another batch of oddball characters as scripted by David Was. (The album’s best line, shouted from a husband to his wife in “It’s a Miracle”: “Who broke the fucking TV?”) It’s been far, far too long since this duo performed together; even if the songs sucked, Boo! would still be worth a purchase just for the privilege of hearing them back in action. Happily, they don’t suck at all – as long as you can tolerate a spoonful of spoken word non sequiturs mixed in with your soul music, Boo! is a rollicking good time. Welcome back, Was (Not Was) – you’ve been missed. Try not to stay away so long from now on.

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Around the Web