Breakfast With Girls
Spongebath Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/09/2010
Some might say that my generation had gone stark raving mad during the 1990’s. Here was a decade that took the promise of alt-rock, rap, grunge, and what have you, and turned it into Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. Sure, they weren’t the only big names in the latter half of decade, but for someone who grew up in that era, they are the first names that come to mind.
It wasn’t that the pop music scene was terrible; it may have been soulless and empty, but there was no denying that it was catchy. Think of it like a McDonald’s cheeseburger: Lord knows that if you want a better burger, you can find one pretty easily: In N’ Out, Five Guys, Chili’s, etc. But in the right moment and at the right time, they hit the spot better than anything else out there. That being said, not even Morgan Spurloch could survive on a diet of just McDonald’s burgers (hell, he couldn’t make it more than a month before risking kidney failure.) We need some variety, higher classes of product, and a little experimentation.
So if I were to continue this analogy any further, Breakfast With Girls is that hole-in-the-wall joint that puts half a stick of butter on your burger before bringing it over to the table – never staying too far from the comforting, reassuring preconceived notions of popular music, but with a definite sense of individuality. Frontman/producer/writer Matt Mahaffey had a little something different in mind when sitting down at the table to start this particular record.
There is something freeing in listening to a record from a band that one has never heard of. There are no thoughts running wild, no questions of “Does this truly stack up with his/her work?” There is just…the album. Cosmic, I know, but it doesn’t happen enough these days for this particular reviewer. So the question is, what did I learn after playing Breakfast With Girls nonstop for a few days?
1. Mahaffey has an ear for what works.
“Great artists steal” has long been one of the memorable quotes revolving around the music industry; the fact that it happens to be true only makes things easier for those involved in the process. Mahaffey almost shamelessly incorporates signature sounds from The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Cake, and Weezer throughout this disc.
2. The term “genre-bending” gets its roots from records like this one
Again: Breakfast With Girls is a pop/rock album at the core. But that doesn’t mean at various moments it isn’t dressed up and ready to hit the town with a little bit of jazz or trip-hop. The ragtime punctuations of “Sucker” are probably pretentious at best, but Mahaffrey understands the important of not overusing little tricks/references. Those golden harmonies on “Better Than Aliens” reference the spirit of glam rock in a wink and nod more than a deep-throated shout.
3. Without listening to any follow-up works, this is the highlight of Self’s discography.
Why do I say this you ask? How can I possibly make such a claim without even bothering to drop the needle on the next record? The answer, my friends, is based completely on feel. It’s quite evident that Self let everything go on this record; those five seconds of “You’re My Best Friend” that got you hooked? Yeah, they put them on here. Ever wanted to just throw jazz at a pop song and see what happened? Again, Self has things covered. Mahaffey didn’t just make a producer’s record; the songs are consistently equal to the task of whatever flourishes are thrown in. If I hadn’t know any better, I would have genuinely thought this to be the group’s debut record – usually such creativity doesn’t stick around for the fourth album.
My surprise continued when I checked the release date for Breakfast With Girls: 1999. Considering the musical scene at the time, this is a record that must have been frowned upon: a mishmash of styles and artists that lacks cohesiveness and the simplicity of “Oops I Did It Again.” Yes, the album doesn’t flow together perfectly à la Dark Side Of The Moon, but its charm lies in its eccentricities. Who knew the late ‘90s were so interesting?