California Clam Clowder (2004)

May 26, 2004
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Greg Kurstin – keyboards
Dix Denney – guitar, strings
Josh Klinghoffer – guitar, marimba
Bob Forrest – vocals
Dallas Don Burnet – bass instrument
Jon Snidel – guitar
Weissmaster Butterfly – guitar, drums, percussion, background vocals
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Review posted on

6665290“Thelonious Monster’s last official album, Beautiful Mess, was released more than 10 years ago, and it was a brilliant album of deeply introspective pop and rock songs penned by perhaps one of the most tragically overlooked songwriters of our day, Bob Forrest. Since writing about that album in DOA’s Underappreciated Album of the Month column, I’ve heard from several other fans about the band’s other albums, most of which are long out of print, and Forrest’s latest band, Bicycle Thief, whose album we also reviewed. I learned I knew very little about this band, which spawned out of the same environment that spawned Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, and others (and shared members with these bands), but I love Beautiful Mess dearly, and I was eager to hear what the band – and Forrest in particular – had to offer after more than a decade.
California Clam Chowder is an odd album. It offers 15 regular tracks (and a kind of cheesy hidden cover) all named “The Song” – I’m unsure if these are songs about said band, or played in the style of that band, or in homage to that band, or a little of all of that. I suspect it’s the latter, and that these tracks are done as a nod to Thelonious Monster’s favorite (and, perhaps, least favorite?) musicians and in somewhat that style. Regardless of the story behind this somewhat thematic approach, the mixture of songs and styles show the many faces of the band, from mellow, moody ballads to up-beat poppy punk songs, each still featuring Forrest’s slightly gravelly voice and penchant for deeply biting lyrics.
Some songs sound like the Thelonious Monster I know and love – acoustic guitar, poignant lyrics, and mid-paced tempo. “The Bob Dylan Song” is nearly perfect, with lines like “this is for the little ones, always gettin’ picked on, the ones enamored with him, this is from me to them.” “The Curtis Mayfield Song” is another rootsy rock affair, slick and smooth and nearly perfect, with a reminiscent theme. “The Bowie Low Song” is catchy, jangly pop, with the line “Well I’m so happy just to be alive, I’m so happy to be standin’ right here.” Other standouts include the perfect pop song of “The Big Star Song” and “The Elton John Song,” and the fitting up-beat pure rock of “The Thelonious Monster Song” and its belted-out ending “and I put it together and it falls apart!”
Others show various styles, from the kind of rootsy rock of “The Gun Club Song,” featuring the line “gonna go see Jeffrey Lee” (Jeffrey Lee Pierce of the Gun Club), to the gravelly punk-rock of “The Germs Song.” There’s big, booming drums that are perfectly fitting in “The Joy Division Song,” upfitting power-pop in “The Jam Song,” and driving garage-rock for “The Iggy Stooge Song.”
I don’t use the word often, but I’ll be the first to claim that Bob Forrest is a genius. While possessing the ability to go from serious to plain ol’ fun rock n’ roll, his best moments are with extremely real, personal lyrics, delivered in his everyman singing style, backed by the talented musicians of Thelonious Monster. And the last decade hasn’t tempered the band’s ability in the least. I, for one, am thrilled the band is back.”