Mark Berube,
Suspicious Fish
(Poor Kitty, 2005)

Mark Berube's Suspicious Fish is funny, smart, elegant and thoughtful. That's not just as a whole; that's every verse on every song. From the title metaphor in the opening "Something About," Berube demonstrates a turn of unusual phrase that purees cliche to reach genuine emotion. "Something About" also displays Berube's musical range and flair for a melody. It's the perfect introduction to the album, and a strong representation of Berube's gift for play with words and instruments.

Despite that, "Grandma Gave Me the Finger" is almost certain to get the most radio attention. That's a shame, as "Grandma," which relies almost wholly on the shock humor of unexpected profanity, is neither the most intelligent or the funniest song on the album. "The Naked Guy at the Gym," "Body Farm" and "Mr. Miyagi" are all just as overtly funny, less juvenile and much stronger musically. "Your Big But" highlights the ambiguity of relationships through the ambiguity of the English language, while never losing the distance necessary to laugh at the whole thing. "The Way You Smell," an ode to an overlooked aspect of love, moves beyond humor by sheer earnestness. "The Look on Your Face," a moment of bitter politics on an otherwise personal album, still finds black humor in self-consolation. "Cocktails on the Balcony" may be the least funny song on the album, but the lack of overt humor is more than covered by the sheer visual poetry of the lyrics.

With a sense of humor on such prominent display, there's a danger Berube will be exiled to the overlooked world of funny music, played only on April Fool's Day or college radio, understocked as a novelty in music stores. That would be a shame, because with possible exception of the harmonica-driven "Grandma Gave Me the Finger," Suspicious Fish is strong enough to match or overshadow the music of any singer-songwriter on the radio today. Berube's music always has a certain upbeat touch, even on such dark songs as "The Look on Your Face."

But aside from that light touch and a liquid coherence of composition, Suspicious Fish is a study in musical variety. "Something About" and "The Naked Guy at the Gym" share a melodic levity and strong guitar hooks reminiscent of early Blues Traveler. "Always the Same" and "The Look on Your Face" are lowkey tunes with bruising emotional numbness that provide an elegant counterpoint to the irreverent lyrics. And "Body Farm" is a straight-out rocker, with such enthusiastic high-power guitar work and hip-shaking rhythm that the wry lyrics almost get lost.

Suspicious Fish is an album built to satisfy the music snob and the casual listener, one that can tickle the inner comedian and the inner intellectual. It is in fact just possible that Suspicious Fish can be all albums to all people. It's guaranteed to be a lot of fun for just about everyone.

by Sarah Meador
20 May 2006

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