Saw Doctors, Play it again Sham!
(Shamtown Records, 2002)

The first thing I noticed about the Saw Doctors' Play it again Sham! was that I couldn't listen to it and not instantly cheer up. It's a veritable party in a jewel case. The Saw Doctors are full of energy and their clever songwriting is absolutely irresistible. I just might have a new favorite album. It'll certainly accompany me on long road trips. It's just the kind of energetic music I need to keep me from dozing off at the wheel.

Play it again Sham! is also a terrific introduction to the Saw Doctors. A compilation of songs from the various albums and singles stretching across their long and fruitful career, it is also a wonderful sampling of the fun spirit the Doctors put into their music and concerts.

The album opens with an inspiring song of friendship and love, "World of Good," then goes right into the greatest ode ever written to a 1980s girl group (admittedly a pretty limited competition), "I'd Love to Kiss the Bangles." Vocalist Davy Carton expounds on his preference of bussing the members of this band over others:

I wouldn't kiss AC/DC or Lemmy from Motörhead.
I wouldn't kiss Tom Petty, Tina Turner, or the Grateful Dead.
And I wouldn't kiss Mr. Tambourine Man no matter how he jingle-jangles.
But Jesus Christ Almighty! I'd love to kiss the Bangles!

Part of the fun of this song (and others) was deciphering the Irish slang, and trying not to blush when I found out what it means. But this is the song I continually find myself returning to because it is the most exuberant. It has no agenda other than to facilitate having a good time.

After "Michael D. Rocking in the Dail," a tribute to a favored politician, we move on to "Bless Me Father," a song of confession without regret:

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned
She had big brown eyes, silky skin
Bless me, Father, I couldn't resist
Oh, Father, you have no idea what you've missed.

But the Saw Doctors aren't all happiness. "Joe Wall Broke My Heart" is one of two "broke my heart" songs, being about the singer's girl running off with a celebrity. What follows is "Me Heart is Livin' in the Sixties Still," a nostalgic revisit (with a Duane Eddy twang) to the halcyon days of that decade.

I was smokin' joints and poppin' pills
And now I'm feelin' ill
Oh me heart is livin in the sixties still
I took off me clothes in the Odeon
Just to watch the Woodstock film
Oh me heart is livin in the sixties still

Then are described different representative people and occurrences and the longing really comes out in the singer's voice. It's almost sad, complete with plaintive saxophone, but then the mood is lifted by the boisterous beginnings of "Howya Julia" with drums, grinding guitar, and forceful voices. The chorus describes more confession-worthy behavior, this time from the other side.

Oh, mighty, mighty Lord almighty
Off with the collar and off with the nightie
Jesus, Mary, and holy Saint Joseph
The beads are rattling now.

Now, I'm not even Catholic, but I know what that means. But that's just an example of the irreverence the pervades this album. It's part of what makes it so much fun. I not only am having fun, but feel like an accomplice in this "bad boy" behavior.

"Apples, Sweets or Chocolate" is an ode to concessions at a concert, "Crock of Gold" a tribute to advice on striving for excellence, and "Broke My Heart" (the other such song) is about how "there's more than just one way to break a young man's heart." The big game could have been won, if only a certain teammate had cooperated.

Will you open your eyes?
For Christ's sake pass me the ball!

Next up is "We're the Popsuckers"--attributed, Traveling Wilbury-style, to the songwriting team of Eddie Sucker/Buddy Sucker/Bill Sucker/Big Sucker/Ringo Sucker. Another trip down nostalgia lane, it comes complete with an introduction by "Casey Casey" on Memphis radio. Let's listen:

The year, 1980. The month, July. This is the hot summer single from...The Popsuckers! Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Eddie Cochran. We play them all day, we just can't get enough of them. When the riff goes around, we never want it to stop 'Cause we're the Popsuckers, suckers for pop. When I first heard the Kinks it really got me going. Blondie's 'Sunday Girl' was really well worth knowing. When Ronnie Spector asked me would I be her baby, I said, "Be bop a lula and I don't mean maybe." When the riff goes around, we never want it to stop, 'Cause we're the Popsuckers, suckers for pop.

After a couple of verses (accented with appropriate riffs of tribute), the drummer goes into a ripping solo with guitar strikes straight from "Wipeout" -- and is that a farfisa organ I hear in the background? "We're the Popsuckers" is another highlight on an album full of them. The influence of American rock and roll on the Saw Doctors is obvious and this song gives the band a chance to pay tribute to the greats.

Most artists would find it hard to follow such a treat, so the Saw Doctors don't even attempt it, simply choosing to continue on as if it didn't happen. It probably helps that "Small Ball" is a speedy rocker with lyrics I can understand--sort of. I know what the words are, I just don't know what they mean. So this throws me off in time to appreciate the poetic "Winter's Just a Dream."

And close your eyes and tell me if you think the feeling's real
Cause it's summer now and winter's just a dream.

It seems a departure for the band to delve so deep into a love song with no irony, but at the same time it's perfect. Even the keyboard underlay (that would fit comfortably on any Cure album) only enhances the ethereal feel.

Okay, my heart rate's been down for four minutes so it's time to kick it back up with "She Says," a steady-beat-and-twanger that's shorter than two minutes and has a doo-wop chorus of "shut up, shut up." It is followed by another surprise--"Small Bit of Love," with, under its spirited exterior hides true emotion as it tells of people with hard lives being relieved by (or, sadly, lacking) that "small bit of love" that "makes it all worthwhile." I want to dance and cry at the same time. That's a hard mix to bring off successfully and they make it look easy.

But back to the frivolity. Do you wanna come "Bushwhackin'?" Or would you like to listen to a "Sound Sham" with a grinding guitar, a steel drum chorus, and a syncopated backbeat that's great with headphones? Of course, you can also drop by the "School of Beauty" where you can hear the story of how "she was a college friend of mine," they "swapped essential oils," and were "moisturizing in our prime." (I'm always impressed by inventive euphemisms.)

We're winding down now, are you ready? Spend a few moments with the "Letter from Louise," a song that tries just a bit too hard to be sincere, and you can then ask "Where's the Party?" and you'll be all set to start again from the beginning, because the party's right here and it's called Play it again, Sham!

[Craig Clarke]