Crash Test Dummies are smart enough to know it's a team effort @

June 10, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Simply put, there isn't anything on the radio these days that sounds like the Crash Test Dummies' hit, "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm." It isn't just the lyric, which unfolds as a series of seemingly disconnected vignettes, or the chorus, which alternates between wordless vocals and plaintive piano; the real ear-grabber is singer Brad Roberts, whose back-of-the-throat bass rumbles out of the speakers like no other voice in pop.

Ask one of the Dummies -- in this case, Dan Roberts, Brad's bass-playing brother -- if having such a distinctive singer helped the band's progress up the chart, and he answers without hesitation. "Absolutely," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in New Orleans. "If you can manage to get to that point where people accept it, something like that helps you. Because it's so recognizable."

Trouble is, once people recognize Brad Roberts' voice as being the hallmark of the Canadian quintet's sound, the temptation is to assume that he is the most important part of the band. And that, says his brother, is definitely not the case.

Not that Dan doesn't understand why people often picture the Dummies that way. "The American media tends to want to focus on one particular member, to make it a sort of celebrity situation in a band," he says. "Nirvana was Kurt Cobain, with Pearl Jam you see Eddie Vedder. They think of themselves as a band, but I think the media focuses on the singer.

"There've been times when we've come down to America, and there's a paper or something that wants to do something on the band. They very often want to get a picture of just Brad, or at the show, they're just shooting Brad. I think that they present bands that way quite intentionally."

But the Crash Test Dummies' sound is anything but a one-man show. "Brad is our songwriter, insofar as he sits down and writes the lyrics and a melody and the chord changes," says Dan. "With some of them, he has a clear idea of how he wants them ultimately to sound; for others, he has hardly any. But he presents them to the band in demo form, with an acoustic guitar, a little drum machine clicking along, and him singing the lyrics with the melody along to it.

"Then the rest of us arrange it. The drummer and I get together and hash out a rhythm that gives the song some personality, and Ellen [Reid, the singer/pianist] does what she does with her back-up vocals, and we do it that way. So I think that Brad knows it's important to present his songs to the band not completed. He knows full well that it's the combination of the people in the band that make up the sound."

Hear "Shuffled"

To hear excerpts from the Crash Test Dummies album "God rTC Shuffled His Feet," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6246 after you hear the greeting.

See the Dummies

When: Thursday, June 16, 8 p.m. (Gates open 6:30 p.m.)

Where: The Infield at Prince George's Equestrian Center

Tickets: $20

Call: (410) 481-7328

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