Review Summary: The Best Breakfast You've Never Had
“Most people call it, weirdo-moron” fires-off Self’s front man and mastermind, Matt Mahaffey , when describing to the viewers of Ted Talks what his type of music that his brainchild, Self (or sElf), And he is not wrong, only a weirdo and a moron would attempt to change their style so constantly and to such an extreme as Self does. Every album tries something vastly different to varying results. 1995’s “Subliminal Plastic Motives”
turns the alt-rock meter to 10 and never backs down showing their guitars with pride. A year later in 1996 Self changed styles completely to a more hip-hop inspired “The Half-Baked Serenade”
which uses guitars reluctantly instead using more electronic elements to drive their hip-hop and funk-esque songwriting.
So where does their 1999 album “Breakfast With Girls”
fit into the Self formula" Well, it takes elements from all of their albums and combines it into on 50 minute package oddities and all. It takes the harder guitar usage from their 1995 album, hip hop and funk from their 1996 album, more experimental ideas from their 2000 album, and even hints of orchestral pop to help deliver this album on a shiny silver platter. On paper it should bomb, but somehow Mahaffey wrote an album that is both consistent, contemporary, and timeless, which is no small feat.
From the opening lines “One bad engine lost power to the system / The media dismissed them / Cause they all died up there” you know exactly what you are getting into. Contemporary lyrics put atop surprisingly effective instrumentation and compositions. Not contemporary as in talking about the issues in today’s world, wars and all (although he doesn't shy away from the propositions of the dark modern world as the lyrics in the title track describe). Instead Mahaffey uses the contemporary lyrics to speak of stuff that people use daily that never make for good lyrical flow. Let it be Microwave Dinners, Bingo Friends, Fruit Industries, School Teachers, and even a subtle jab at lesbians, Mahaffey uses all of these and more.
Tracks like “What Are You Thinking"”
takes the listener into the mind of the regrets of a guy who is canceled his date after panicking, “Watch T.V. cause She's the late queen / Post traumatic shock set in / Telling her to cancel the evening” Something that may not seem very serious actually effectively works as something serious when the song continues onto a repetitious but powerful lyric, “Wait, I’m not down just yet / I’ve got mountain of regrets / and my sorrows fill an ocean” which shows that maybe he made the wrong choice, as if there was a right choice to begin with. Meanwhile “Kill the Barflies”
paints an equally grim picture of a girl being harassed at a bar by tons of guys who are just trying to get her into bed. Mahaffey’s morals bleed through in the lyrics by being both an outsider observer and wanting to take action but not having the strength to do so, only mentioning it when looking through photos of that night “It was all right there in front of it” and “Acting as if nothing was happening” and then saying as if to try and help the girl, "Dear tonight they've got you in their antenna / And their tracking"
Even the most unapologetically lyrically contemporary songs use effective rhymes and words that helps hide the dated references. The title track, “Breakfast With Girls”
, uses phrases that should damn this album to the furthest pits of dated music, with lines like “Make a million dollar video for B.E.T./ Do a remixed version for MTV” but the lyrics surprisingly come out unaffected thanks to the rhymes and words being so much fun to listen to that the age of the dated references appear to have no contextual importance against the enjoyment of the song.
This is not to say that the lyrics are the only elements in the spotlight here, as that would be a flat out lite. The actual compositions and instrumentation here are excellent.. Each song is arranged to where no element has importance over another, everything is subtle and equal. For example, the track, “Callgirls”
subtly adds elements such as bells and pianos to the chorus as the song continues onwards, only noticed in the background as a treat to repeated listens that heighten the overall experience subconsciously. On a completely other scale, the song “Meg Ryan”
shows the playful more laid back side of Self painting vast pictures of a industry dominated by Pineapples and sugar which shows a vague tropical feeling as people “sing love songs in Portuguese” further of which is showcased by the acoustic lead and the very organic electronic elements and sporadic drumming that litter the song.
Regardless of how jarringly different each genre showcased here is, all of it somehow works. Tracks like “Kill the Barflies”
use the hip-hop elements lightly in order to spice up the song and to help deliver the point harder “He's scheming on a way to get you into bed” Mahaffey repeats over and over sounding almost desperate and angry as to save this girl from giving into these armies of guys just using her. Some songs do show their base genres harder than others, “Breakfast With Girls”
(the song) and “Better Than Aliens”
, the former being a straight up hip-hop styled rant on various girls and what they can get away with but still deal with them anyway because, “They’re the ones making us breakfast” and the latter shows us a dark love story with no good ending, but is still “better than aliens”. The poppy acoustic driven “Callgirls”
is lead by an instantly catchy melody and shows Mahaffey’s morals in a much more direct state then “Kill the Barflies”
by repeating the phrase, “I can't lie I'm unable to pretend/ I'm unable to defend your actions.”
Even the final track does not let up depicting a very dark day for our protagonist by saying "I smiled as to not provoke him / Then asked "What's up with the gun, man"" using a very empty piano and sparse sound effects before exploding into a huge piano lead string filled ballad-esque ending with an almost regretting tone using the lyrics "Are you man enough to take the blame for this"" over and over before ending with a single empty piano note.
The only musically low point on the album is "Sucker"
which is defiantly not something I want in my search history when looking for lyrics "Google Search 'Self Sucker Lyrics' please" Besides the abrupt cut off and the surprisingly subtle use of hidden backward lyrics which read to "Breakfast is coming soon" (Which the following song takes the albums title it is much more cleaver than one may think)
the only other issue to be found (if you could even call it that) are the placement and addition of the songs “Suzie Q Sailaway”
all the way to “Paint By Numbers”
which are both good songs as is. But both “Suzie Q Sailaway”
and “Uno Song”
are a bit too straightforward compared to the the ideas and themes on the rest of the album, both songs dealing with the lighthearted nature of love and silly fantasy styled moments while the rest of the album dealing with more darker ideas and more ‘topical’ themes, even the more lighthearted songs like “Meg Ryan”
have a sense of hopelessness and wanting that these two tracks lack.
In the end of it all, am I coming off a bit biased and fanboy-ish by saying that “Breakfast With Girls”
is one of the best albums of the 90s" Maybe, but when none of Self’s other album (except for ”Gizmodgery”
) can not hold my attention beyond a few select tracks, you know that there is at least some truth to what I preach. There may never be another breakfast as varied and consistently excellent as this one, so don’t let it go to waste.