Orange Mothers – Greatest Hits

Orange Mothers
Greatest Hits

Austin, Texas-based Orange Mothers claims to be the greatest unknown college-rock band from the 90s, outside of Austin, that is. The band’s claim is only half right, as I think we can all agree that these guys are unknown. But the members of Orange Mothers seemed to care little about national recognition or critical acclaim. Austinites proclaimed frontman Ethan Azarian the “god of slack,” and remaining unknown allowed them the creative freedom to pursue their particular brand of humorously eccentric pop, of which 14 tracks are offered on Greatest Hits.

The Orange Mothers’ brand of humorously eccentric pop immediately draws comparisons to Barenaked Ladies and The Flaming Lips, thanks mostly to Azarian’s somewhat whiny, sometimes off-key, and always nasally plaintive singing voice. Furthering these comparisons is the fact that he sings about aliens, the absurdity of everyday life, and his whimsical and satirical views on love and the hereafter. Add a few drug references, and Tenacious D comes to mind, only without the smut. The way the songs are structured around acoustic guitar-rock and mostly slow to mid-tempo pop ditties is reminiscent of Crash Test Dummies. But while the Orange Mothers manage to combine all of these analogous elements into one, the other half of the claim is proven wrong, since the music does not rise to the level of these other artists. And so the Mothers remain mostly just a novelty act.

The fact that the Mothers managed to put out four albums in their day is pretty good for a novelty act, and we have I Eat Records to thank for keeping their music alive. This Greatest Hits disc is a collection of 13 songs from the previously released, now out-of-print Orange Mothers’ albums plus one bonus track from head Mother Azarian’s previous band, Hollywood Indians. Too many of the songs have themes of love and are slower rock/country crossover tunes that I could do without, but by definition a novelty act should be something new and different designed chiefly for play, and there are a few tracks here that fit this definition.

The first one is the opener “Heaven,” which is a catchy little acoustic number with hilarious reflections about life on this planet. “Aliens” follows and is a raucous stomper with Azarian singing about his alien visitation encounter. With its electric guitar strums and Azarian’s Wayne Coyne-style voice, “Aliens” sounds as if it was an outtake from the Flaming Lips’ Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, but it finishes with an organ riff that would fit on a B-52’s album. By far, this is the album’s best track. But it’s “Kids (Don’t Know)” that all of us older-school rockers will be playing for our friends, as the catchy organ melody and slick electric guitar solo rock out, while the sing-along chorus touts our slacker lifestyle at the same time claiming today’s kids just don’t know.

The Orange Mothers ride the fine line between rocking humor and pretentious foolishness, often crossing over to both sides. When it works, it’s like a great joke that you have to tell to everyone you see, and it gives you a good laugh every time. But even the best jokes get stale eventually, and so it is with this novelty college rock band of the 90s from Austin.