I first became of aware of Big Head Todd and The Monsters (BHTTM) while living in Colorado during the summer of 1993. That only makes sense, as BHTTM is from Boulder and have a huge following in and around the Rocky Mountains. The album was Sister Sweetly and the song that summer was “Bittersweet.” Sister Sweetly is one of the top five albums that changed me after listening to it. In order those albums are:
1. The Joshua Tree, U2
2. Achtung Baby, U2
3. For the Record, The First Ten Years, David Allan Coe
4. Sister Sweetly, Big Head Todd and The Monsters
5. Tie: The Chronic, Dr. Dre, Ten, Pearl Jam
Not exactly a uniform list, but then whose listening tastes are?
Back to BHTTM, as I mentioned, Sister Sweetly became my default album of choice for about 2 years. I have no idea what woman was the inspiration for that album, but most of the songs are sad ruminations of a love affair gone wrong. At that point in my life, I was going through my first bad breakup. The songs from that album still resonate with me today, but the original source of that resonation has been lost to memory and time (I know, I know, they are CDs now, but being 28 years old, the word album has not been erased from my vocabulary).
I finally got to see BHTTM in the fall of 1997 in Oklahoma City at the Bricktown Brewery, in a setting of about only 300 people. It was a concert experience long in the anticipation, and it did not disappoint. I have no idea if they are any good in a setting bigger than my backyard, but they were good that night.
Which brings us to 2002. BHTTM released at least three other (good) albums between Sister Sweetly and the newest one, including a live album, but they failed to capture the lightning in a booze bottle effect of Sister Sweetly. I heard BHTTM broke up, and while sad, I’m at least thankful that I got to see them before they parted.
Then, about a month ago, I am roaming through the CD section at Randy’s M&M in Edmond, OK and there it is. I actually stopped and stared for a minute: a new BHTTM album. Just sitting there. No promotional posters up anywhere, no little white rectangle thing to separate it out from the other CDs in the B section: nothing but the CD. Taking it the counter was an act of will because, remember, I thought they broke up. The back of my mind kept pinging this thought to the front: It’s not the same lead singer.
Without Todd Park Mohr there is no band. Trust me. 18 dollars is well spent, even to hear him sing average songs. Listening to Todd Park Mohr is listening to the sound of burbling water, late night radio talk show hosts, and sweet syrup. He has always sounded like late night Colorado to me. Sitting in a bar, smoking a cigarette, and drinking Fat Tire. That’s what I hear when I listen to BHTTM.
The new BHTTM is Riviera. Listening to it for the first time felt like slipping into a favorite pair of sweat pants on a cold morning. The voice was there, the sound was there (I swear these guys make their instruments cry), the whole BHTTM package. And maybe that’s a good thing.
There are some bands who spring forth fully formed and never have to change. The Eagles are the best example. I believe that BHTTM is one of those bands. The sound is perfect from day one, and there is no need to tinker with it. This makes for comfortable, instead of challenging, listening. And there was a time that would have made me mad. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s age, but I like the familiar, I like the comfortable. BHTTM delivers with Riviera. Buy it, put it on, take a minute, and you can smell the Rockies. Go see ‘em when they come to town.
The only jarring note about this album is three of the song names: Hysteria, Runaway Train, and Wishing Well. It is quite possible that Todd Park Mohr has never heard the other three songs with the same names. Still.