#56 – “Rat Patrol” (1999)

Long Tall Weekend
L.K.: This is one of those songs that wound up differing pretty radically from an earlier Dial-A-Song number with the same title. It blows my mind to discover that they’ve played this song live, because it seems like the sort of song that would never see a setlist.
A.S.: Well, they’ve barely played it live, apparently only a couple of times since the release of Long Tall Weekend.
L.K.: Sort of like “Now Is Strange”, which sounds pretty similar to it in a lot of ways, but has never been performed live.
A.S.: Yeah, the two songs are pretty similar – strange vocal affects, a distinct 70s-hard rock feel.
L.K.: Minor-key, guitar-heavy, weird-vocals songs.
A.S.: The Dial-A-Song version of this is really odd – just the verses over and over again, sung by Flansburgh a cappella with this really bouncy, goofy melody.
L.K.: Yeah. It’s sort of like how the Flans “I Palindrome I” from Dial-A-Song got totally replaced by a superior song when it was released on Apollo 18… except that this song didn’t get totally replaced. The lyrics mostly stayed the same, it was just the music and the overall feel that got a total overhaul. This song is so short on lyrics anyway though, which makes it seem sort of odd that they didn’t add any more.
A.S.: Well, it got music insofar as anything that wasn’t just Flansburgh’s voice.
L.K.: Yeah, true, but the melody bore no resemblance to the final one either. Man, this song is so rockin’. It’s so weird.
A.S.: The melody became really scalar. The verse is just based on an a natural minor scale.
L.K.: One of these days I’m going to make a list of every (presumably) John Linnell-penned melody that just consists of a scale.
A.S.: There are a lot of them.  I don’t know if we’ve really covered any of them, but you can begin your list with this one. I love the staccato melody going back and forth between two chords that happens at the start of the chorus.
L.K.: I just can’t get over all the crazy guitar going on in this song. It really doesn’t sound like TMBG at all. Maybe this is what people were complaining about with regards to Eric Schermerhorn’s guitar playing, but in the case of this song, it actually fits.
A.S.: People complained, what, that he was too flashy? Too noodly? Too masturbatory?
L.K.: Just that his guitar playing didn’t “fit” with the band at all. Too flashy and noodly, yeah. “Widdly-widdly-widdly.” Presumably they would say “masturbatory” if I had ever seen anybody use that word with reference to anything TMBG-related. The guitar solo on this is still totally kickin’ though.
A.S.: I feel like people complaining about Schermerhorn’s playing have never heard anything by Yngwie Malmsteen or any of those five Frank Zappa discs consisting of nothing but guitar solosNo, this solo is great.
L.K.: Well, traditionally TMBG was not a guitar-solo-based band, due both to stylistic choice and Flansburgh’s notable lack of lead guitar chops. Eric was the first real lead guitarist, so I guess he sort of lead the charge for them to take on the standard 5-piece rock lineup.
A.S.: True, there was the desire to completely eradicate songs of any useless material – which mostly meant guitar solos. And people fear change!
L.K.: But people love Dan Miller’s guitar solos! People who hate Eric love Dan.
A.S.: And Dan can get pretty noodly.
L.K.: I also have this bizarre, inexplicable love of both Johns’ insane vocal stylings on this number. I love that Flans describes Linnell’s singing as “twitchy” and his own singing as his own “personal caterwauling”. “We can’t really justify this track. We’re just grateful it’s finally on a CD.”
A.S.: Do you think this is one of those rare complete collaboration songs?
L.K.: I don’t know, not intentionally, I don’t think. I’m tempted to think musically the final version was the product of Linnell’s writing.
A.S.: But judging from the Dial-A-Song version, the lyrics are likely Flansburgh’s.
L.K.: The Flans demo wasn’t fleshed-out enough to suggest the music was derived from it though. It’s not like with “The World’s Address” where the Linnell-sung demo was already musically complete.
A.S.: Right, so this seems to be one of the rare songs in the catalogue where, as far as we know, both members contributed significantly to the song’s composition.,
L.K.: Again, it’s hard to make any statements without official confirmation from a John. A lot of assumptions are being made by us (along with everybody else in the fanbase).
A.S.: That’s what we’re here for! Making assumptions so you don’t have to!
L.K.: There really are so few lyrics to this song though. The music is really the driving force behind it. There are two short, very impressionistic verses, and then a chorus that is little more than the title of the song.
A.S.: But it’s an intensely fun song regardless
L.K.: I agree with John Flansburgh on this song: it’s not really justifiable, but I am really glad it was released regardless.
One Response to “#56 – “Rat Patrol” (1999)”
  1. For me, Eric’s stuff just felt like it was spliced in from another band — way too much wah-wah (I know it’s his nickname, but still) and, well, I just thought he was a terrible fit for the band. Dan seems to fit a lot better. (And, actually, FWIW, Eric fits really well with the Mono Puff stuff he’s on, too. It’s just that…. TMBG wasn’t That Kind Of Band That He Seemed To Think It Was.)

    (and I am a huge zappa fan and have all of those five discs of solos, plus a few others that the ZFT has released since his death.)

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