by John Mackie, Vancouver Sun, April 8, 1993
Funny guy, Moe Berg. In person, he's a bit shy and nervous, an all-Canadian guy. But put him in front of a microphone, and he comes off like the rock and rollin' offspring of Redd Foxx and Rusty Warren, or maybe Hugh Hefner and JoAnne Worley.
Moe seems obsessed with sex. It comes out in the songs he writes for his band, the Pursuit of Happiness. Songs with numerous sly references to his love bazooka, to that part of the female anatomy which interests him most, to the ins and outs of relationships.
Take Honeytime, a song off TPOH's new album, The Downward Road. Berg fancies himself the Pooh Bear, always sticking his hand in the jar of love; he imagines his baby's body as his playground, her legs the monkeybars. It's positively overflowing with sexual innuendo, and funny as hell.
The same could be said of most songs on The Downward Road, the band's first album in three years. It's packed with the rolling thunder that Berg is known for, hummable bonecrunchers that walk a fine line between hard rock and bubblegum - what Berg dubs "the pop sailboat on Lake Rock."
The album title was nicked from an old Staple Singers tune that opens the album.
"The song is about the road to hell," says Berg, who appears with the band at the Commodore tonight through Saturday (the band is co-billed with 54-40).
"And if the album stiffs, it's a perfect title," notes drummer Dave Gilby.
"A lot of people say that," says Berg. "'When you called the record Downward Road, were you referring to your career?'"
The band's career did appear to be in limbo for a while. The Pursuit of Happiness rode a wave of critical acclaim to commercial success following the release of their debut album in 1988 (which featured the hit single I'm an Adult Now). But their second album, 1990's One Sided Story, seemed to stall out of the starting gate.
Relations with their record company, Chrysalis, went sour, and the band negotiated their way off the label. They inked with another label, Mercury, largely because the former head of Chrysalis, Mike Bone, went there. Bone then departed Mercury, leaving the band a bit bewildered. And when The Downward Road was completed in June 1992, Mercury decided to keep it in the can for another eight months, so that it wouldn't get lost in a wave of superstar releases.
Anyway, The Downward Road is finally out, and seems to be doing just fine. Sonically, it's a bit heavier than previous TPOH fare, almost like a stadium rocker at times. This may have something to do with switching producers from Todd Rundgren to Ed Stasium, who's twiddled knobs for Living Colour, the Ramones and the Smithereens.
"Todd's more of a big-picture guy, Ed's more of a sweat-the-details guy," says Berg, noting the band took three months to record the new album, instead of the three weeks it took with Rundgren. "If someone's coughing in Sri Lanka, you've got to do another take."
The sessions took place in Los Angeles, and right in the middle of things, the LA riots erupted.
"It was bizarre," says Gilby. "It was like being under house arrest, because you had to be home every day (for curfew)."
"We just poured cocktails and watched the riots on TV," says Berg.
Fortunately, the band was unscathed by the riots. But when the curfew was finally lifted, somebody lifted their van.
"We went out for a record company dinner," relates Gilby. "We went to go get our van out of valet parking and it's like, where's our van? 'Here's your keys, but the van is gone.' 'Well, why did we pay you to park the van? Don't you watch the lot?'"
"I had a bunch of stuff in the van," laments Berg. "My bag with the camera, my spare glasses, my New Kids on the Block t-shirt that I got from Donnie Wahlberg. My really great Chicago Black Hawks cap.
"It was our band van that we had for five years. We had one payment left. I think it's the longest I've ever been mad about anything in my whole life. I was mad six or seven months later."
To add insult to injury, they met with indifference when they went to report the theft.
Gilby: "The cops said 'Your van's gone, so what - we're not looking for it.'"
Berg: "They said, 'we've had 50 murders this weekend!'"
Copyright The Vancouver Sun and Pacific Press © 1993