Album #33: “Welcome to Timbuk3” (1986) / “Eden Alley” (1988) — Timbuk3
SCENE: A small town in the mountains of West Virginia that has never seen better days. It is almost midnight when I take the lone Interstate exit into town: fog and summer thunderstorms kept me from making it to Pittsburgh when I intended and I am exhausted. The only place to stay is “Motel 79” — with a name perilously reminiscent of that disaster of a disaster flick “Airport 79,” it is but my first warning sign. When I point out to the night manager that the window in my room was smashed, he shrugs and says, “There’s a board over the opening.” The place doesn’t look like its been cleaned since the 1970s, and I am afraid to use the towels. I step out into an empty parking lot and light up a bowl. That’s when I see I’m standing next to the police station. I realize I’m in the center of town. Looking up and down the street, I can see half the town is boarded up. I sleep in my clothes on top of the bed sheets.
The next morning, I am greeted by a cold, gray, steady downpour. Several gap-toothed smokers sitting in folding chairs under a motel awning wave to me as I load the car. I remember a sign in the lobby offering long-term stays, and it occurs to me they probably live there. I pop in a tape at random. It is Timbuk3’s first album and “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” comes on as I pull out of the lot. With the windshield wipers slapping against the rain, I leave behind this nameless mountainside town, swimming in irony. The serendipity forever redeems Timbuk3’s biggest — and most overplayed — number for me. A staple of ’80s movies and TV shows, the Top 40 smash isn’t bad, just over-exposed, but it was also far from the best song Timbuk3 would ever do.
Formed by husband-and-wife team Pat and Barbara MacDonald, Timbuk3 was a post-New Wave duo that relied heavily on bass, percussion and harmonica. They were clever, off-beat and idiosyncratic, and their first two albums still hold up beautifully 25 years later. In fact, I couldn’t decide between the two (after listening to each, I think no THIS one is may favorite) so I simply put up both for your consideration. Sadly, the band’s fortunes declined after a stellar start, and after six records Timbuk3 dissolved when the MacDonalds divorced.
So, from Welcome to Timbuk3, here’s “Facts about Cats,” (which is not about cats) and “Sample the Dog” from Eden Alley. (And if anyone knows what THAT song is about, let me know? Thanks.)