The Dentists – Powdered Lobster Fiasco

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

There is a period of British indie, roughly post-Smiths and pre-Oasis, that I really enjoy. The House of Love, the Wedding Present, the Auteurs, Catherine Wheel, Heavenly, Teenage Fanclub, Spacemen 3, the Weather Prophets, Close Lobsters, the Housemartins, the Stone Rose, Ride, the Boo Radleys, Kingmaker, and, obviously, the Dentists. The Dentist released four albums between 1985 and 1995; during that time they had three different drummers, but the core was singer/guitarist Mick Murphy, guitarist Bob Collins, and bassist Mark Matthews. They had a fitful recording career, perhaps explaining both the number of random-ass compilation albums out there and the band’s lack of sustained success. I used to own the final album, Deep Six, which is a dispiriting atrocity, and the earlier comp Dressed, which for some reason I did not like enough to keep. I do believe that the comp I did retain and the excellent Behind the Door I Keep the Universe represent the best of the Dentists.

What I Think of This Album

It’s difficult to believe this is a collection and not a proper studio album, as there seems to be unity of purpose and a consistency of sound that belies the fact that six of the songs are from singles released on three different labels; the rest are apparently songs from the years immediately past (plus one live radio session of a tune released several years before). Actually, the singles – titled Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, and See No Evil – were thematically linked, insofar as each contained a contained a poem by John Hegley.

What stands out most on the album is Mick Murphy’s clear, boyish voice and Collins’s excellent guitar work; the songs are melodic, energetic, and retain a hint of the psychedelic leanings from the Dentists’ earlier efforts. So too the band’s good nature, which is evident on several tracks.

The lead guitar line in “Leave Me Alive” is phenomenal, the song culminating in Murphy’s anthemic cry of the title lyric, backed by some grouped harmonies. Murphy shines again with the anthemic, forceful declaration “You can be king again!” on the tuneful, crystalline “Beautiful Day,” with another excellent guitar part from Collins. “Charms and the Girl” is a propulsive piece with a soaring vocal and an aggressive guitar attack, as well as some interesting melodic shifts.

There is a moody, reflective quality to the acoustic-based “Outside Your Inside,” which reminds me much of the Frank and Walters. The winding “Pocket of Silver,” with a thick bass line, is a fine, fun song. Coming across like a less dour Church, the band delivers on “Box of Sun,” which is at once chiming, serpentine, and driving (and the harmonies are again a nice touch). Even the tracks I don’t care for as much aren’t bad – they just fall short of the quality of the others.

The band thanks “the workers, the writers, and the worriers” in the liner notes, and how can you not love that?

The Best Thing About This Album

“Leave Me Alive” is one of the band’s best songs.

Release Date

1993

The Cover Art

This is fantastic. In the liner notes, bassist Mark Matthews explains the origins of some of the objects pictured on the cover (e.g. “the safety pin has no significance though it was the only thing I couldn’t glue down”; “the stamp just had to be Belgian”; “the crisps were salt and vinegar. I threw them away”).

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