JUNE 2005 ISSUE
REMEMBER The CHEEPSKATES?
I certainly do. In particular the first time I ever saw them perform, on the stage of some otherwise nondescript club in Hoboken circa 1989. They brazenly encored that fitful, fateful night with a powerfully popping rendition of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” (or was it some ABBAsong?), and it was there and then I fully realized there was more – MUCH more – going on here than merely met the ear.
Indeed, The Cheepskates, since their inception at the very dawn of the dreaded 1980s, had always been the most musically, and especially melodically adventurous of any within New York’s nascent post-punk’d neo-garage movement. But this inventiveness never fully flowered for the record until the release of their third long-player, REMEMBER, in the year of our Lord and yours 1987. It was perhaps, if I may apply my retrospective rear-view here, this very genre-bending that doomed the band to fall between critical cracks back in the days. Yet I insist it’s this exact same decorum-be-damned Fun with Numbers approach which keeps such albums as fresh this afternoon as it surely would’ve sounded to the band’s original core of hard, dedicated followers nearly two long decades ago.
In fact, it doesn’t take long at all after Tony Low’s “I’ll Be Around” more than kicks everything off by nodding generously back towards “Run Better Run,” that great big Cheepskates hit that unfortunately never was, before REMEMBER launches the proceedings firmly upon its bold new musical mission. Having recently stripped strategically down to a lean if not so mean trio, the band were actively refining their studio M.O. (for example, slowing the rhythmic pace overall after initial sessions over-fueled in no small part by Jeremy Lee’s discovery of a certain potent, caffeine-laced espresso soda), when not expertly tweaking their instrumental approach to boot (“I remember - no pun intended - laying down acoustic guitar parts, with Shane and I both playing in unison,” Tony recalls. “This was important because there were absolutely no acoustic guitars on the Cheepskates’ first two albums. This was a new texture to our sound”). Hereto, precisely this strain of deceptively delicate rubber folk most prominently shades “Every Time You Change Your Mind,” wherein Shane Faubert dips a toe or two towards such semi-plugged horizons he would explore in more depth throughout his own SAN BLASS album six years hence.
Vocally as well, Shane’s long-held infatuations with the Millennium and ’66-vintage Beach Boys, apparent only in passing on earlier Cheepskate recordings, positively illuminates the bulk of REMEMBER’s sonic sound-beds (witness that astounding leap of acappella which breaks the otherwise jolting jangle-pop jig “Questions” and, in the case of “Hold Me,” bravely takes center-stage all upon its Pet Sounding lonesome). No sir or maam: this was most certainly not what was expected from a band that, up til then, had happily been lumped amongst the paisley plethora of “96 Tears” retread-masters then littering all the world’s trendiest lower east sides.
Lyrically as well, the Faubert penchant for analyzing human relationships – to say nothing of human frailties – bubbles to the fore inside such telescopic three-minute character studies as “Little Girl,” “Backwards Boy” and most pointedly “Lately,” wherein rumors of Fleetwood Mac-caliber accusations are duly muted with comfortably keen observations a la classic Raymond Douglas Davies. Call these, if you will, sagas of the Opposing as opposed to Opposite sex.
Now, while signposts towards past masters aplenty can be unapologetically spotted throughout this most aptly-titled REMEMBER (I luv the Yardbird chorales which weave their sinister Gregorian way here and then there; and what, speaking of which, can ever be more Summer of 65 overall than “Echo”?), The Cheepskates were obviously becoming confident enough in their very own abilities to mix, and in the process actually match, those which proudly popped before. Why, “Better Off Alone” actually tips its tune in favor of the Monkees’ “Words” rather than the Brothers Gibbs’ -- before greasing into rockabillied guitar territory altogether, that is -- while Jeremy’s wholly pigeonhole-confounding “Slip Away” defiantly stakes out some severe alt. Country long before anyone’s No Depression ever thought to circle the wagons whatsoever.
But it is perhaps during those mere two-minutes-fifty-four of “On Our Own” that all of the above-marveled accomplishments coalesce, rise, and brightly shine to the occasion. Witness Shane trading his trademark Farfisa for a most regal of harpsichords, Tony’s bass bounding octaves kept earthbound only by the steady Lee right foot / left hand combination, an arrangement and storyline both taut, tightly twisting and, finally, the vocal roundelay which tags it all by conjuring an entire parade of silly love songs past, present, and future.
Sadly, “doing Sixties-style garage in 1983 and early Seventies pop in 1986 made us pioneers, but didn't make us incredibly popular,” Mr. Faubert may now reflect, yet I hearby proclaim that, as with all those most potent sound and visionaries across rock’s ages, The Cheepskates simply seemed hellishly bent on creating some History rather than Hits. And, truth be known, if that WASN’T the case, would either of us be sitting here right now?
Join me now, for the three-quarters of an hour or so it takes to spin this wondrous album at least, as we all fondly recall, reflect, recast and reassess and, above all (you guessed it), REMEMBER the Cheepskates, won’t you?
A quick pop straight over to www.tomlou.com can more than get you started.