Review Summary: A masterpiece of oddities and diversity.
Rheostatics, through the course of their 27 year career, some eight studio albums and several live albums, and a surprisingly consistent member catalogue (with the exception of a drummer change here and there), have become one of rock's most enigmatic bands. Sure, I'm not expecting everyone to have heard of them, and it's easy to see why. The band has constantly eluded the spotlight with their excessive quirks, odd melodies and overall un-accessibility. But they've gradually become one of Canada's most proud undiscovered secrets - infinitely influential to the underground music scene at large, influencing nearly every Canadian indie, alt-rock or even a good portion of still loyal to their roots rock bands and artists. Though it would be difficult to choose a standout of their many studio albums, one album that would constantly come up close to the top would be their 1996 release The Blue Hysteria
The band has never been a stranger to a diverse sound. Ever since their humble beginnings, the band have always been acquainted to odd, confusing and, generally, eclectic experiments in their sound. Hysteria
is no different, with the sound waging a war on most rock music at the time. Sprinkling hints of the eighties art rock scene throughout ("Bad Time to Be Poor"), alt-country song craft ("An Offer", one the album's most beautifully sad songs), and even stabs at pop rock simplicity ("Never Forget", which incorporates subtle strings and minor keys spotted throughout a somewhat quirky yet upbeat song). The band always knows their limits with their sound styles, and never gets out of line with any of them. Always welcome and enjoyable, humbling yet bombastic. Even in the case of "Four Little Songs", which incorporates fifties rock 'n' roll, oddball shoegaze, country with a hint of alternative soul, and epic rock opera all in under six minutes.
The band shifts through moods constantly throughout as well. Although the album is mostly on the happier and more upbeat side, the band also takes startlingly alarming dives into bleak and disturbing song craft once in a while. While "Motorino" has a quirky and upbeat sound to it, with it's fun and odd guitar strangling and hums throughout, "Sweet, Rich, Beautiful, Mine" is an almost obsessive-compulsive song, with it's schizophrenic aura of sounds and lightning-strikes, minor key guitar stabs, all wrapped under Martin Tielli's absolutely frightening vocal performance. The chorus is especially scary, with hints at corruption and greed, as the title might suggest. His monstrous bellow and maniacal laughter at the end is tormenting, but it's never anything short of beautiful.
The band knows how to make an emotional connection with their listeners, though the topics of the lyrics are often bizarre and, occasionally, almost frustrating. "Feed Yourself" is an almost Neil Young
type of song, with it's bellowing lead guitar licks and two or three chord attack. The song itself, though seemingly simple on paper, is actually a very enjoyable song. The song itself finds itself in the middle of what's happier or sadder, but the result, though confusing, is still excellent. It's rawness contributes to it's soul, which overflows with it's almost-excessive six minute length. But nothing on the album can possibly compare to the absolute masterpiece of "Fat". Lyrically, musically and emotionally, this song is a winner. It's the most disturbing song on the album lyrically ("When we were kids we ran like Interpol, I killed a copper with a puck of coal, put a rock through a Saint, it made a stained-glass hole" and the like), though, quite possibly brought by the lyrics themselves, the song has an almost childlike innocence to it. The music is twisted and frantic, almost sedated under the smooth vocals. It's rawness is a superb output of the band's emotion towards their song craft, and the formula is brilliant. Seven minutes of sheer bliss, haunt and brilliance.
To be honest, there is barely anything wrong with this album. There are no bad songs, and despite the occurrence of a few one minute song connections, the album goes through flawlessly, intriguingly and intelligently, even though the playing itself is spotty and the sound is a bit inaccessible at first listen. But if you value alternative music, rock music or even just odd and spacey music, this album is an absolute must for your collection. A classic in every sense of the word for more reasons than you can shake a stick at, but most notably it's power, diversity and raw emotion. An unconditional recommendation, but it won't hit you as a classic on the first listen. Perhaps it's only flaw.
Thanks for reading,