Written by: Don Ciccone
There’s a wonderful moodswing on this album and it’s exemplified by the two covers within. Both are from the early 70’s but couldn’t be more different from each other: Lynsey De Paul’s 1972 bouncy, come-hither Euro smash, “Sugar Me”, and Bill Fay’s, “I Hear You Calling,” a thoughtful lament from a factory worker. And yet, in Phelan’s hands “Sugar Me” sounds dark, while the Fay song seems rather hopeful. Bubblegum Boogie brilliantly switches gears from playfulness to melancholy while simultaneously maintaining both.
The set begins with the very Bolanesque “Trojan Pony”– try and get this one out of your head after even one listen. Flo and Eddie-like backing vocals and pedal steel make this (and some of the others to come) a cross between T. Rex (unplugged) and John Cale (Paris 1919). From silly to sublime next: “You’ve Got Your Mother’s Eyes”, penned while Phelan cared for his ailing mother. “My Last Great Love” is another, very catchy, T.Rex-ish groover, with beautiful arpeggios by pianist Jenny Brand. “Guessing Game” features Phelan himself on clarinet. How many rock songs have a clarinet solo?
And how many albums contain “A Song for John Howard”?
The Bolan (think “Mambo Sun”) groove returns on “I Got Ziggy on the Land Line” complete with high pitched background vocals and lyrics like, “Gonna put you in my wigwam.” There’s that playful side again. The title track, which might be a portrait of a blissfully unaware couple, is neither bubblegum nor boogie but a rather lovely ballad built on major 7ths. It modulates nicely in the instrumental break, led by a flute. The closer, “A Modern Day Dorothy” waltzes us out but not before proclaiming, “If you step on bubblegum boogie, then you step on me!” And who would take such a step?
All in all, this a complex, remarkable collection. Whimsical yet woeful, cozy but not claustrophobic. It’s ingeniously arranged with acoustic guitar, bass, pedal steel, piano, organ, brushed drums and woodwinds– all providing a perfect accompaniment to Phelan’s warm, relaxed voice and Brand’s fine background vocals. If Marc Bolan, John Cale and Kevin Ayers found themselves in a room together they might have come up with something not unlike this.