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An unheralded classic.
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 09/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"hilt, Call the Ambulance... Before I Hurt Myself (Nettwerk, 1990)
I will say from the outset that the word "wackiness" is not normally appropriate in a review. To my knowledge, I have never used it in one. And most probably, I never will again.
Musically, Call the Ambulance is about what you'd expect from a Vancouver supergroup. Originally rising from the ashes of Skinny Puppy drummer cEvin Key and ubiquitous vocalist Al Nelson (Politik Crash, Mystery Date, Two Lovely Children)'s late-seventies punk band Illegal Youth, Key pulled in fellow pup Dwayne Goettel, and later Sons of Freedom bassist Dutch Harrison, one of the finest bass players in the business, jumped on the bandwagon. Legendary producer Dave Ogilvie both produced and performs on the album, and some backing material is provided by Betsy Martin (vocals) and Mark Schafer (guitar) of Caterwaul. It's kind of a "how can you go wrong?" scenario. You get that many good musicians together, and you're going to come up with something good.
What pushes Call the Ambulance into the realm of greatness, however, is Al Nelson. Between his voice (which takes a bit of getting used to; he slides from the smoothness of lounge-lizard vocals ["Hilter"] to death-metal caterwauling ["Back to Insanity"] to horribly off-key wailing ["Wood Soup"] in the most wonderful way) and the inspired wackiness of his lyrics, Nelson, who passed away in 2000, may well have been one of rock's enduring figures, had anyone ever managed to notice. There are sixteen tracks here, and it wouldn't be stretching it too far to say they're sixteen distinct musical styles. The album runs the metal/industrial gamut, slides into the rather twitchy keyboard noodling Key was also doing in Doubting Thomas, throws in some pop love songs, and... well, I'm not exactly sure what you'd call "Let's Fall Out." It is a genre all its own.
It should surprise no one that an album this brilliant is almost universally loathed. Even those who jumped on the hilt bandwagon after hearing the similarly-excellent 1991 disc Journey to the Center of the Bowl, in the main, have no use for Call the Ambulance. What a pity that is, because under the album's exceptionally disjointed and off-key surface is one of the finest pieces of lyric-writing on the planet combined with some really fantastic music contributed by alumni of some of the best bands working at the time. An essential album. **** ½"