Sunday, July 01, 2007

Bleed A Little While Tonight.

Int. apartment, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1990. A couple of twentysomething university-types lounge around. A map of Shakespeare's Britain lies on the floor.

PERSON 1. (viewing the map upside-down) Does that say Shakespeare's brain?
PERSON 2. (sarcastically) No, it says Shakepeare's butt.

And with that the title of the The Lowest Of The Low's debut album was decided.

Released in 1991, Shakespeare My Butt was the first album by the four-piece Toronto group and became the biggest-selling Canadian independent release of all time. The title would only hold for a few months when Barenaked Ladies' Yellow Tape would usurp the title. But the importance of the Low's debut would last longer.

It was impossible to listen to rock radio in the Ontario/New York area in the early '90s without hearing songs like 'Salesmen, Cheats & Liars' everywhere.

The band came to notoriety playing the bar scene in the Toronto/Buffalo/Niagara area. The story goes that, when they finally entered the recording studio, the members had seventeen songs to their name and were unsure of which to include and which to cut from the album. So they recorded them all.

Clocking in at 64 and a half minutes, Shakespeare My Butt blends folk, rock, punk, and more into a jangly folk-punk record following in the pattern of artists like Billy Bragg. The album features dual vocals, dueling guitars, stomping drums and a library's worth of poetry. Perfectly blending bohemia, Canadiana, and Torontopia, you're as likely to come across a mention of author Henry Miller, Chinese leader Chairman Mao, or unemployment insurance as you are to hear them namedrop Toronto bar The Only, the Carlaw bridge, or the Don Valley river. (The album contains references to Klaus Barbie, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Guinness, Sacre Coeur, Clark Gable, Ernest Hemingway, The Pogues, and Converse hi-cuts, to name a few.)

There are ballads about the smell of snow, love letters from wounded soldiers, scathing critiques of businessmen, songs about finding out your neighbor is a murderer, being lonely, being hungry, being cold, and being coal. And it's just as likely to be witty as it is to be touching or catchy. ("Well I've kissed you in France and I've kissed you in Spain / And I've kissed you in places I better not name / And I've seen the sun go down on Sacre Coeur / But I like it much better going down on you").

The album is so all-encompassing and literate that it's no wonder that it has become heralded by acts like Billy Bragg, Weddings Parties Anything, superGARAGE, the Rheostatics, and the Weakerthans. In fact, Weakerthans leader John K. Samson has gone on the record as citing it as a major influence on himself and his own music.

After the release of Shakespeare, the Low would release one more album before breaking up for six years. A reunion occurred resulting in the release of a live album, new EP, and new LP in 2004. But the band's first album remains their touchstone.

Shakespeare My Butt is my favorite album of all time and probably the greatest album ever written about Toronto. So far.

"Bleed A Little While Tonight" live in Buffalo

Check out more of The Lowest Of The Low at YouTube.

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