Illustration by Austin Briggs from the Saturday Evening Post, December 1957
The additional evidence I promised pointing to my burgeoning psychic powers has finally arrived, in the form of a sequel/prequel to last year's official Wires and Waves Album of the Year, Yes Boss by Kleenex Girl Wonder. This record, titled Mrs. Equitone, is a thing of beauty, its only commercially-available tangible format being a 7"x7" CD edition (the outsized packaging contains a regular-size CD) with an accompanying essay and extensively annotated lyric book. Anyone who's anyone will remember that my wish of all wishes was to have a fully annotated lyric sheet to Yes Boss, so the new album taking on this form can only mean that I have managed to establish an embryonic psionic link with Kleenex Girl Wonder mastermind (and NY-based songwriter) Graham Smith. Congratulate me at your earliest convenience.
I'm pretty happy about this record. It's hard to talk about how Mrs. Equitone relates to Yes Boss because the chronology is confused - I think that it was recorded in 2008, before last year's album, but was only released last month. It also has a somewhat different agenda to the verbosity-as-extended-metaphor grandeur of Yes Boss. The Mrs. Equitone book's Foreward explains pretty clearly how this is an attempt to evoke Smith's earlier, funnier works by recording the whole album at home with an "emphasis on holistic songwriting, avoidance of repetition in choruses and song structures in general, and a focus on creating meaningful, appreciable lyrics and vocal melodies which prioritize multi-syllabic rhymes."
As a devotee of classic-period KGW (i.e. Ponyoak), this was good news to me. And Mrs. Equitone does have some similarities to Ponyoak in its song structures, arrangements, and melodies, which are paired nicely with the impressive humor and lyrical denseness that made Yes Boss great. The songs on Mrs. Equitone reveal that Smith has been spending a lot of time (1) watching HBO and (2) looking up random things on Wikipedia - references to Deadwood and The Sopranos butt up against Japanese poet Ikkyu, pre-Christian Gnosticism, and the dubious Howie Mandel comedy Walk Like a Man. The annotated lyric book can be referenced casually or not at all and the lyrics are still poignant and funny, but close attention to the words pays off as well. Here are some favorite lyrical excerpts:
You said that you could never see yourself with almost anyone else - I guess that was technically true.
It doesn't take much to make an idiot out of an autodidact.
Tell me what have you got in your mandible now? A kitten or a midwestern cow or a hyperbole or a sweet little sound?
Most of the songs on Mrs. Equitone are about love and relationships, with rich metaphors comparing love to time ("Months at a Glance"), waitressing ("Coming Around"), and, best of all, the failed HBO comedy and Robert Wuhl star vehicle Arli$$ (the album's single "Heartle$$"). My favorite song may be the most lyrically impenetrable, titled "Telempathy Training Seminar Saturday" - according to the annotations, the title is a reference to Deanna Troi fan fiction, and the lyric is about a self-help group distributing pills that grant supernatural empathic powers. The song's middle section is a transcript of a telempathic session and features some of the album's most biting lyrics, reminiscent of the more acidic portions of Yes Boss. The song's sound, however, is straight out of Ponyoak, especially the outro, which clearly quotes the coda of "I Cut Myself In Half".
The best thing about Mrs. Equitone is that it melds Graham Smith's new-found lyrical ambition with the lo-fi melodicism of his old records. If you want to get better acquainted with the Kleenex Girl Wonder songbook, go to kgw.me, where you can listen to most of Smith's old-school recordings and his most recent work. Of particular interest is the version of Smith that is found there, a reinvented version the 2001 album, paring its original 41-track length to its essential fifteen songs, removing the terrible skits and detritus that made it seem inessential at the time and revealing some of the tightest and catchiest songs Smith wrote during that period. This new version is, in fact, almost identical to a CD-R distillation of Smith that I made when it was released. Coincidence or evidence of a psychic connection? You make the call.
"Telempathy Training Seminar Saturday" by Kleenex Girl Wonder