Crash Test Dummies Biography

When songwriter Brad Roberts (10 January 1964; vocals/guitar) graduated from the University of Winnipeg, Canada, with an honours degree in English literature, he was still a dedicated student, planning to take a Ph.D. and become a professor. His chronic asthma and penchant for the lyrics of XTC’s Andy Partridge did little to dispel his ‘college geek’ image. However, when the band he had started with friends in the mid-80s took off, his academic interests had to be suspended. Building on impromptu get-togethers as a group formed at an after-hours club in Winnipeg, the name Crash Test Dummies was eventually selected. When record company executives heard some of Robert’s demo tapes (which he had been using to try to secure the band festival gigs), the interest encouraged him to concentrate more fully on music. The band at this point comprised Roberts, his younger brother Dan (b. 22 May 1967; bass), Benjamin Darvill (b. 4 January 1967, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; mandolin/harmonica/guitar), Ellen Reid (b. 14 July 1966; keyboards/accordion/vocals), and Vince Lambert (drums).

Their 1991 debut, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, rose to number 1 on the Canadian chart on the back of the hit single ‘Superman’s Song’. A blend of blues-based rock ‘n’ roll and folk pop, its best moments occurred when Robert’s strange vocal amalgam of Scott Walker and Tom Waits combinedwith Darvill’s harmonica. However, despite selling over a quarter of a million copies domestically, the rest of north America remained uninterested. This situation was radically amended with the release of God Shuffled His Feet, which introduced new drummer Michel Dorge (b. 15 September 1960) and was co-produced by Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison. Their breakthrough arrived with another distinctive single, ‘Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm’, with its stuttering title as the song’s chorus. A catchy, radio-friendly novelty song, it was only partly representative of the band’s more astute and perky pop compositions. Nevertheless, it rose to number 12 on the Billboard chart in March 1994, and was also a big European hit. God Shuffled His Feet was a strong album, although occasionally its references to literature and schools of philosophy, such as Dada, cubism and Sartre, overbalanced some of the songs. At other times Robert’s questioning intelligence worked to better effect: ‘How does a duck know which direction south is?’ being just one of many wide-eyed but entertaining observations.

The follow-up A Worm’s Life contained more wonderful lyrics about God and life but the songs they accompanied were indifferent, and the momentum gained by the second album was lost when this album, and 1999’s Give Yourself A Hand, failed to sell. Darvill released his solo debut, Son Of Dave, during a hiatus in band activities. In 2000, Roberts released a solo acoustic collection and suffered a near-fatal automobile accident. Having decided to put out the next Crash Test Dummies album on his own label, he spent time with a group of lobster fishermen, recuperating and contemplating one of his favourite subjects; the meaning of life. Feeling rejuvenated he assembled an all-new line-up of Dummies comprising; Kent Greene (guitar), Dave Morton (bass), Danny MacKenzie (drums), Kenny Wollesen (washboard/percussion). The result was the beautifully laid back and laconic I Don’t Care That You Don’t Mind. In Roberts’ words, were it ‘not for that damn car accident, I wouldn’t have written this friggin’ record’.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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