Album in Depth: God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. So, I’m not one to banner my religion (or lack thereof) out loud because, well, it brought me more problems than solutions and when it comes the time to say “I’m an atheist”, I heard more shit than I would if I just said “I’m whatever the hell you want me to be.” And, well, one of the profits that came to my lap was the acknowledgment of some bands that name themselves (or the fans label them this way) “folk” or “atheist”. Crash Test Dummies was one of these that were appointed to me, though looking back, even though they made some jokes over religion as whole, it’s not exactly atheist. Anyways, this album, although a hit back in 1994, has become more and more of an obscure hit, mostly because of criticism on their major hit and, even though they release new material to this day, they left mainstream fame back then. But who are Crash Test Dummies and why a name so strange is a folk band? A little background is required.

The year is 1994. NAFTA is established. Two movies that moved my childhood (Lion King and The Mask) are released and are among the 10 top grossing films. Wario Woods, the last licensed Nintendo game to be released, goes to the stores and you could bash mummies and zombies with the release of Darkstalkers on the arcade. Kurt Cobain’s body is found and Dookie is released making punk profitable again (maybe the two facts are connected, I don’t know).

Crash Test Dummies, a folk/alternative rock band from Canada, did release an album three years after (The Ghost That Haunts Me), and gained some popularity, but it wasn’t an international fame or anything like that. With a hit “Superman’s Song”, a song really about Superman, Brad Roberts became a mark of the band with his baritone voice and clever lyrics, alongside his brother Dan Roberts on the bass, Ellen Reid on back-vocals and keyboard and Benjamin Darvell on the mandolin and harmonica. The only personnel change from one album to another was Michael Dorge replacing Steve Berlin on the percussion. With the release of the album “God Shuffled His Feet”, their major single hit “Mmm mmm mmm mmm” (not joshing, that’s the exact name of the song) hit the shelves, even though some people claiming it to be uninspired and boring. Together with some other singles, the ’94 album made the band more recognizable and achieved somewhat of a worldwide fame.

The cover is creative and fits the album like a glove. It’s Bacchus and Ariadne, an oil painting by Titian, with the faces of the personnel replacing the faces on the painting. For those who do not know, Bacchus is the roman name for the Greek god Dionysus, god of whine. Ariadne was his consort and, in the painting, just had been found out after running away with Theseus, for what I could gather. It’s not that important to the album, it’s not that important to me either, just some cool trivia. The elapsed time of the entire album is 44:45, excellent, with the longest song being the title song with 5:10 and the shortest one having the elapsed time of 1:43 is “Untitled”.

The album went as high as #9 on the US charts and #2 on the UK charts, even snatching a #1 on Australia, but it never went this high in Canada. Strange. Well, the jibber-jabber is over, let’s get this over with: God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies.

1st track: “God Shuffled His Feet” – With a mild folk melody, the album starts off with the longest and title track of the album. Although most likely not being the one they thought would be the most successful, it did enjoy a cult following and even got a music video. And in my opinion, this is an awesome track, with the vocals sounding great and the back vocals being superb as well. Lyrically, it showcases the Crash Test Dummies power: creative and fun to hear, even though it is a clear direct attack to the god of the bible. With a strange solo made with some strange effects, the song ends with the moral being “most answers god give only makes more questions”, I presume. Should be listened.

2nd track: “Afternoons and Coffeespoons” – This one comes with a quicker beat and, at first, a lower register voice, even though that fades after a while. This time around, the song is more heavily based on the guitar, with some harmonica parts in there as well, a harmonica solo even. I think this one is a critic to medical systems and the overuse of pills and remedies, not really sure. Great song, as well.

3rd track: “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” – Their most famous track, this one is highly criticized because of sort of dumb sort of downer lyrics. It’s now heavily based on a background duet between piano and guitar, and it works pretty well, emphasizing the downer aspect of the lyrics, which believe it or not, always sounded to me like downer humor. The lyrics are about three different kids that had experienced social problems, being a kid whose hair became white after a car crash (maybe resembling a parable told on God Shuffled His Feet), a girl who had lots of marks in her body and a boy whose parents had some pretty strange religious beliefs (hah, another jab to religion). It’s a great song and should be listened as a hit song of the year it was released.

4th track: “In The Days Of The Caveman” – Then, after three great songs, I believe the mediocrity started. This song is almost exactly like Afternoons and Coffeespoons, but toned down a little and talking about, well, days of the caveman and what the humans nowadays have still from that time. The lyrics are creative and completely different from the other three, and are fun in there way, but the song is so… dull and unimaginative that it doesn’t compensate. It also has an accordion on the background, but it only makes the experience worse (I don’t like accordion).

5th track: “Swimming In Your Ocean” – The melody sound pretty outdated, I don’t know why, it just seems overused. It has a distortion effect on the rhythm guitar that just makes me remind me of something, kind of a Bossa Nova feel, but I can’t really put my fingers on it. The lyrics, again, are really ingenious, with a guy talking to god and asking things that are puzzling him. A pretty deep lyrical meaning to a song that just seems antique, but not in a good way.

6th track: “Here I Stand Before Me” – What? Melodically, it’s almost like Afternoons and Coffeespoons, it’s almost like they knew that it was a masterpiece and decided to do a lot of tracks like it: it’s different now and then (including a strange harmonica solo that comes out of nowhere), obviously, but you can see the basis. The lyrics are again, creative, repetitiveness is repetitive. The kid saw his X-Ray and had nightmares of him before him. With a further search, I discovered that this is a problem: there were some that were traumatized by an X-Ray of his body or head. I don’t know why, though. “Oh, we have bones inside our heads, I’m trembling”. But then again, I’m afraid of more than 2 meter heights.

7th track: “I Think I’ll Disappear Now” – With a new song, comes more originality, however, it loses in the lyrics department. Melodically, it’s broken, really strange and with a rhythm that is really well marked upon, but it works: like a strange but cool song. However, the lyrics, even though smart sometimes, it’s just a break-up song, and to be clear, it is, to me, more depressive than “mmm mmm mmm mmm”, with the protagonist wanting to disappear because his woman is gone. The back vocals that are present in all album starts to wear thin right about now.

8th track: “How Does a Duck Know?” – This song is stranger than the previous one, and it’s fucked up. It raises the question on how many things work as they work, and it makes you think. It’s a bullshit philosophy right from the bat, but it will make you think, even jamming in Satan without any reason whatsoever. The melody is broken, doing something that I never seen before: going from a chorus to a common verse without a pause. If it wasn’t for the obnoxious melody and some recording problems now and then, this would be a good song, but it fails in those departments.

9th track: “When I Go Out With Artists” – It has the Afternoons and Coffeespoons feel to it, but with a more of an upbeat spirit to it. This section of songs that resemble that song is tiring me to a point where I don’t stand them anymore. The lyrics, fucking again, are great, but the melody is boring me out of my skull. This one criticizes the artists (actually, if you consider music and dance to be arts as well, it is a criticism to painters, more precisely). Even with a guitar solo that has some charm to it, it’s still boring.

10th track: “The Psychic” – This song tries to be a serious one in the midst of the album’s light humor, and… well, it doesn’t work. It’s a song that doesn’t rip of any other songs, and believe me when I say this, it has some strong lyrics working at his favor, with the psychic trauma and whatnot, but it’s obliviously boring. It’s, again, like “Mmm”, based on guitar and piano on the background, but it’s so slow and stalled and strange. The only good thing is the piano, and that’s it.

11th track: “Two Knights and Maidens” – You know what’s worse than a song that tries to be serious and it’s not? A song that tries to at least amuse us a little, and fails. This is it: the song that no one asked for, completely forgettable and inconvenient. The melody is boring and broken apart, with some strange instrumentation, like what I believe is a synth bass completely out of nowhere, with lyrics about maidens giving drugs to knights and making them be killed by tigers. I’m dead serious. It’s just that: unsettling, unpleasant and boring.

12th track: “Untitled” – The shortest one is the last one, and it’s just a piano song. This is the part where the artist tries to be artsy, it’s just a pompous and shitty way to end an album, but in this case, it kind of works a little. I’m not saying it’s good, it sounds like creepy elevator music, but at least it’s not Afternoons and Coffeespoons yet again. It ends calmly enough, and although not fitting the album, is a great finisher.

So, how does it all hold up? Lyrically, this album is astonishing good. I really suggest taking some of these lyrics and just reading them; they are well made and are real poetry. However, in the melody department, they stuck to some formulae they themselves created and stuck to them until the album was finished. The first three songs are great in both melody and lyrics, and you should stick with them. The rest is a mix bag of songs poorly executed or poor lyrics, going to the extent of having some songs that are bad in both of them. But looking back, the album is not exactly horrible: it’s just boring. It’s one of those albums that should not be listened paying attention to it in one go.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

Follow me on twitter: @jotakapf.

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8 Responses to Album in Depth: God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies

  1. Aei says:

    “Swimming In Your Ocean” IS NOT about God, or communicating with Him. It’s about daydreaming during sex.

  2. MJ says:

    “Afternoons and Coffeespoons” is about a (possibly) terminal patient who is still fairly young and is hoping to reach old age and do all those things that (most) people think is dull and boring “old people” stuff. The point being, he’s fantasizing about living long enough to be old and do dull old person stuff, “Someday I’ll have a disappearing hairline”. It’s made a little more obvious in the bridge and the lyrics after the bridge, “Maybe if I could do a play-by-playback I could change the test results that I will get back”.

  3. jasonbwellsc@gmail.com says:

    I believe that this album is one of the best ever made, and that it is highly underrated. I’m glad that you feel qualified to dissect each track. I believe that many people had a similar reaction to the album. It is a very unique album for a certain type of person. Its like the “Neverending Story”. It’s dangerous and not for everyone. It is obviously not for you.

    • Jonathan says:

      I agree with you completely. This is quite possibly my favorite album ever released. It is enjoyable and soothing to listen to with absolutely brilliant lyrics. I believe that the album must be taken as a whole. It is very thematic and together the tracks create a philosophical narrative of sorts about the nature of life and humanity. It asks deep questions while maintaining a whimsical tone suggesting these questions, while fun to ponder, should not be taken too seriously.

  4. richfiles says:

    Man… I found this tape in the cassette player of a 22 ton pea harvester one summer when I worked for Delmonte, to save for college. It ended up becoming one of my favorite albums of the 90s! After my cat managed to snap my iPod in half… wrap your minds around that one, folks… I never bothered to restore my old playlists, and this one never made it back onto my old iPod (the broken iPod was a nano, but I restored and upgrade my old Mini with a new battery, and a 16 GB compact flash card conversion).

    In the end, I got reminded of Mmm mmm mmm mmm (which I made all the school computers play at startup when i graduated high school) while chatting with a friend today, and I just started listening to the songs again, after nearly a decade… I think it’s honestly been close to that long since I heard any of them!

    I really missed the tunes from this album, and I’ll say that these songs never bored me! 😛

  5. Chown Biblio says:

    I think of “In the Days of the Caveman” and “How Does a Duck Know” as juxtaposed meditations on nature.

    Caveman is about its power to inspire wonder and inner peace, Duck is about its power to inspire mind-bending Lovecraftian dread and existential terror.

    (So the allusion to Satan in the latter is not random, it’s the whole point of the song.)

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