It will naturally always be the case that most people can get by just fine either never hearing Barnes and Barnes or stopping with "Fish Heads," the Chipmunk-voiced, easy listening freakout that forever marked Billy Muny as much more than the kid on Lost in Space. Take a chance, though, and Zabagabee
, drawn from just about everything the band had put out through the compilation's release in 1987, has a lot more to offer than might be thought. While nothing here is rare per se, it does collect plenty of the "classic" moments of the duo's truly bent career. Perhaps the big open secret of Barnes and Barnes is that they had a lovely knack for commercial but not slick new wave/modern rock of the '80s variety, with synthesizers, hooks, just enough guitars and drum machines, over which they then proceeded to sing all sorts of bizarre lyrics. It wasn't quite what Steely Dan
did in the '70s by any means, but their approach showed more intelligence than the likes of, say, Wang Chung
or Mr. Mister
. At their best, Barnes and Barnes rivaled the sublime work of Sparks (check out the definite homage "Life Is Safer When You're Sleeping") or Devo
(whose Bob Casale
produced the band's quite appropriate cover of "What's New Pussycat" included here). A good chunk of the songs have something to do with sex, polite or otherwise -- thus the likes of "Soak it Up," "Party in My Pants," and "Swallow My Love" (which is about exactly what it sounds like). But whether it's the romantic acoustic guitar nonsense of "Ah-A" or the questionable attractions of "Pizza Face," "Loch Ness Lady," or "Cemetery Girls," not to mention the "Boogie Woogie Amputee," Barnes and Barnes know exactly how to attract and repel at the same time.