#12 – “Mink Car” (2001)

Mink Car
L.K.: Oh man, I was just thinking about this song last night!
A.S.: Right?  As I was playing “Hopeless Bleak Despair” on the radio, you mentioned how weird it was that nothing from this album had come up yet, and sure enough…
L.K.: Well I was also specifically thinking about this song when we were talking about insight into the songwriting process.
A.S.: Oh, that too.
L.K.: Just because of the mental image of side-by-side Johns at a piano composing is adorable.
A.S.: Yeah, that seems to be a popular favorite, in terms of fans’ reactions to TMBG songwriting processes.
L.K.: They never do stuff like that; it’s very old-school.
A.S.: I agree, it’s a very endearing image, perhaps exaggerated by the lush, low-key nature of this song.
L.K.: Bacharach and David used to write his favorite songs… It’s very Bacharach-y, minus the constantly shifting time signatures. That 60s sort of feeling.
A.S.: You know, I was having trouble remembering what exactly this song reminded me of and you just hit the nail on the head. Yes, Bacharach – 60’s lounge-pop, singer-songwriter-y, hint of jazz stuff.
L.K.: I think the first time I heard an actual Burt Bacharach song, I thought “Oh my god, it sounds like Mink Car!’ You can yell at me all you want for having heard “Mink Car” first, but keep in mind I was 12 when this album came out, and most 12 year olds aren’t listening to 60s lounge pop.
A.S.: Hey, you can yell at me for not figuring out that it was a Bacharach homage.
L.K.: Maybe that’s another reason why the “writing as a duo at the piano” thing worked for this song, since that method of songwriting itself is a total throwback. And then you get the great flugelhorn playing going on and just… perfect. Everything is perfect. I love the fancy chords in this song too.
A.S.: It’s an incredibly lovely song – really great chord changes, a winning melody, and the bridge is just incredible. I hope Bacharach would be flattered in the unlikely instance that he’d ever hear this.
L.K.: Who knows. Ah, the bridge… notably missing in the demo version.
A.S.: Yes, the demo pales severely without the bridge. Two repetitions of the chorus leave the song feeling very incomplete.
L.K.: The demo also sort of reveals that Flans seems to have a hard time singing the song’s chorus. It’s a very angular sort of melody. It’s hard to nail all the pitches.
A.S.: Yeah, there are some pretty tricky leaps there that’d be difficult for anyone without any formal vocal training.
L.K.: Also it’s pretty rangey as a whole.
A.S.: Yeah, Flansburgh managed to pull it off really well on the album version.  It’s probably one of his best vocal performances.
L.K.: It’s a great melody! It’s just really difficult for most people to sing. The live performances of it lose a lot by having keyboard instead of actual piano though.
A.S.: Yeah, it deserves that rich hammer-on-string action. Can we mention Jim O’Connor’s flugelhorn playing again?
L.K.: Yes! Always!
A.S.: God, that is just such a dead-on Bacharach flugelhorn bit. I’m still kicking myself for not figuring that one out. Notice, just Bacharach and not Hal David, because I have a hard time believing David would include a line like “24-karat dead” in a song.
L.K.: Well yeah, TMBG are always kind of beholden to their own lyric-writing sense, no matter what other band or composer they take influence from.
A.S.: And looking at the lyrics again, it’s also clear here that the bridge was added later; the lyrics seem completely unrelated to the verse/chorus. “And her smile’s an open sign on an abandoned store” is a great line that I never really picked up on prior to this, too. Change of subject, but I’m torn as to what to include for the YouTube link for this post – there’s a straight up rip of the song, but then there’s this fan-made video.  It’s probably the only fan-made video I’ve seen that I like.
L.K.: Yeah for a fan video, this is pretty cool; I like it. I sort of wish I could’ve heard this live, but they seem to have only performed it around the time the album came out, and then a couple of times more recently, but with David Driver on vocals instead of John Flansburgh. And I know Driver is actually a trained singer, but I prefer Flans’s singing on this song. I feel like it’s better without the over-the-top loungey mannerisms, even though it is essentially a lounge song.
A.S.: It suits Flans really well, given his 60s pop predilections. I just imagine it’s not the sort of song that’d be up for much consideration when designing a set, since it’s slower and might temper a show’s energy. It’s not exactly the song best suited for the stage, but I’d still love to hear it live.
L.K.: Maybe 10 years from now when they’re doing Mink Car shows at Mohegan Sun…
A.S.: That long from now, eh?
L.K.: Well, it took them this long to do Lincoln, and that’s a much more well-liked album than Mink Car.
A.S.: True, and it’s a shame since Mink Car is such an underrated record.
L.K.: Mink Car seems to have the distinction of being everyone’s least favorite TMBG album, which kind of sucks because it does have good songs on it. It also has a couple really, really bad songs though, and the album as a whole has even less coherency than usual – a billion different producers, misguided reworkings of songs that were issued in better forms earlier, etc.
A.S.: True, true, but there are some excellent songs on there. This title track is one of them, and it’s one that I feel is often overlooked.
L.K.: Yeah, this is a great song, and it’s a shame that it and the other really good songs from Mink Car seem to have dropped off the face of the earth (with the exception of “Cyclops Rock” and occasionally “Drink!”)
A.S.: Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to show our appreciation for this album as more songs crop up here.
L.K.: Hopefully tomorrow’s song won’t be “Mr. Xcitement”
A.S.: Everyone’s favorite song.
L.K.: Tied with “Another First Kiss”.
A.S.: I’ve thought that if they switched those two songs out with some of the B-sides from that record, assuming the B-sides were recorded in time for Mink Car‘s release, say, “Rest Awhile,” “On the Drag,” and “I Am A Human Head,” it’d be a much better, more acclaimed LP.
L.K.: I don’t know about “I Am A Human Head”, but hot damn, “On The Drag” definitely deserves more exposure than it would get on an EP. Speaking of Mink Car, the album, I didn’t realize it had gone out of print! It wasn’t even available on iTunes or any other online service until very recently. Was it really that big a flop, or was it just related to label disputes?
A.S.: Perhaps a combination of the two? I’m glad it’s being made available again though, perhaps revisionist history will look more fondly upon this LP.
L.K.: What did Pitchfork give this album… a 2? Fucking Pitchfork.
A.S.: Yeah, Pitchfork gave it a 2.6 or something.  Probably didn’t help matters much, although they’ve never been all that considerate of TMBG anyway.
L.K.: “We like the first two albums, why can’t everything else they made be like those?” I’ll have more anti-Pitchfork rants once “Birdhouse In Your Soul” comes up in our song shuffle.
A.S.: Or “Maybe I Know.” Hey speaking of things going out of print, for any Zappa fans, according to friend/record store owner Charles, the Rykodisc Zappa CDs are either going or already out of print. Something to do with the Zappa Family Trust and their consistently confusing actions, so pick those up while you can. </PSA>
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