You’ve known this was coming since last week, when I promised an album from the great lost power-pop group of the ’90s. (Well, most of you did, anyway. I’m not sure what the person who guessed “Damn Yankees” was thinking.)
If you’ve never heard of the Grays, well, you’re in pretty much the same boat as everyone else; despite a stellar pedigree, a generous helping of Epic-assisted buzz, and no shortage of fawning from critics and pop nerds all over the planet, Ro Sham Bo was a commercial nonstarter.
There were good reasons for this. First, and probably most importantly, the guys who made up the Grays — Jason Falkner, Jon Brion, Buddy Judge, and Dan McCarroll — were, and had always been, out of step with commercial trends. Falkner was a member of the Three O’Clock and Jellyfish, and Brion had done time with ‘Til Tuesday (not to mention session work for — surprise! — Jellyfish), which should tell you everything you need to know about their luck as recording artists.
There was also the problem of being in a band in the first place — specifically, that all four members professed to hate it. Falkner, for one, had vowed never to join another band after leaving Jellyfish. Still, the quartet went into Ro Sham Bo with the best of intentions, seeking to avoid any ego-dug pitfalls by dividing songwriting and performing duties more or less evenly. Epic, meanwhile, was doubtless hoping that the sales sum of the band would be more than its parts.
Snake eyes on both rolls, obviously.
Critics, of course, lined up in droves, and Jellyfish fans still grieving over that band’s untimely demise (all two dozen of them) were in the tank for the Grays before they’d heard a single note. I think MTV might have even given an airing or two to the video for “Very Best Years” (embedding disabled — say it with me now: Fuck you, Sony/BMG). All for naught. Like their album, the Grays were a blip on the radar, and all four members were quickly on to other projects.
I’ve always been sort of baffled that Ro Sham Bo has remained out of print; not only do Brion, Falkner, and (to a lesser extent) Judge have name value in pop circles, but damn near everything is in print these days — matter of fact, the first Damn Yankees record is getting the reissue treatment in a couple of weeks. I can only guess that legal issues (or disinterest on the part of the various band members) has kept the album in limbo. And anyway, it isn’t as though having an album go out of print is unusual for any of these guys. Most of Falkner’s stuff has faded in and out of availability, Brion’s solo record went through years of label bullshit before he finally put it out himself, and Judge’s lone album — the intriguingly titled Profiles in Clownhenge, which I learned of this morning and now must hear — is rare enough to command in the neighborhood of $20 for a used copy.
(McCarroll, meanwhile, went against stereotype — the drummer became a record executive, doing A&R and publishing work.)
So what about Ro Sham Bo, anyway? For me personally — and I know this will be pop heresy for many of you — it’s … okay. I’ve owned and sold this album at least twice, and although I definitely appreciate the songs more now than I did when the album came out, all things considered, I’d rather be listening to Spilt Milk. (Not really a fair comparison, I know — but who said pop was fair?)
Don’t take my word for it, though — since the album is still fetching $10+ used, I figured I’d just put the whole thing up here for you to download and enjoy. Drink in that sweet mid-’90s pop, folks — and meet me back here next week for a look at the terribly depressing state of soul music in 1988!
The Grays – Very Best Years
The Grays – Everybody’s World
The Grays – Same Thing
The Grays – Friend Of Mine
The Grays – Is It Now Yet
The Grays – Oh Well Maybe
The Grays – Nothing Between Us
The Grays – Both Belong
The Grays – Nothing
The Grays – Not Long For This World
The Grays – Spooky
The Grays – All You Wanted
The Grays – No One Can Hurt Me