by Norman Provencher, Ottawa Citizen, December 12, 1996
We've all experienced that embarrassing moment a couple of minutes after losing some sort of argument, coming up with the much-too-late riposte that would have cut the opponent to the quick. Like most of us, Moe Berg, creator and chief singer, songwriter and guitarist for The Pursuit of Happiness. Unlike most of us - and fortunately and profitably for Mr. Berg and the Pursuits - he can come back and write literate and catchy songs about it.
"Well, I mutter to myself in the street like everybody else and get my share of strange looks," the veteran pop-rock master says over the phone from Toronto. "But a lot of times I can use those situations to find a way to write a song. It gets things out of my system and seems to mean something to other people."
The self-effacing Berg and TPOH have been, arguably, Canada's premiere pop-rock act for years, built around Berg's wry lyrical take on everyday situations plus his knack for coming up with the uber- riff, impossibly catchy tunes, hooks and choruses that bore into your brain and, happily, stick there long after inferior material from other bands flies the coop.
The band's newest album, the Wonderful World of... has 13 such songs but long-time TPOH watchers can be forgiven if they shake their heads a bit at the first listen. The signature guitar rock and the tight harmonies are still right there. But when's the last time you heard a TPOH song with accordion, synths and flugelhorn? Even violinist Melanie Doane takes a turn (although she seems to be turning up on everyone's albums these days).
Along the way, the material ranges from TPOH's pretty stuff to massive rockers like She's the Devil, the album's two-minutes-to-the-second first single, where Berg's voice sounds as though it was sieved through a phase shifter or a bad phone line.
"We've had some strange reactions to the CD, people looking at us a little strangely," Berg concedes. "But the songs (and arrangements) just really come on their own."
Still, if the music has taken something of a turn, Berg's lyrics remain as clever as ever. One favourite around here is "You're shiny enough/ to attract a few flies/ but not so many that I get in fist fights/ with big guys" from I Like You. Another is the simple "I hated you first" from album ender The Truth, a typical Berg song about a busted relationship.
"Yeah, pretty childish, eh?" he laughs over the phone.
"I've always felt I should be honest with people when I'm writing songs and write what I mean and not resort to the usual rock'n'roll euphemisms. Maybe that has something to do with whatever success we've had."
The new album also wouldn't look out of place in a Somerset Street West storefront, with Chinese characters spelling out the band and album name on the front and a slightly cheesy-looking "cocktail menu" inside, again using Chinese characters to spell out the song titles.
"Ever since I moved to Toronto (from Edmonton in the mid-'80's) I've always lived around Chinatown and I've always loved the looks of those Hong Kong Cds and videos. I just wanted to steal a bit of that."
TPOH has also jumped on the enhanced CD bandwagon but, unlike a lot of bands, the CD-ROM portion of the disc isn't a straight effort to move merch or to repeat videos or band pictures. Instead, the producers put together a cartoon short linking a lot of the album's songs into a story.
"We weren't really interested in the sort of things that had been done on other people (enhanced Cds). Videos still look better on TV, photos still look better in print. Most of the people we've talked to about it find it kind of charming."
The band's getting ready for a full-scale tour some time in the new year, but Ottawans get a sneak peek Saturday night at Barrymore's. Opening are Starkicker and Salmonblaster.
Copyright 1996 Ottawa Citizen