03 May 2009

Ted Narcotic
A Deadly Combination
Nouveau Cliché 2008

So I got this CD from a taxi driver in Seattle ...

Seriously, that's how I got this album. The finale to a very enjoyable cabbie/customer conversation, the driver offered me his CD (he was Ted Narcotic nee Higgins his very own self), and in exchange I said I'd give it a serious review. I certainly don't review every CD someone gives me but I was in the mood for something different to the stuff I already had, and this fits that bill nicely.

A little inter-tubes research reveals that Mr. Narcotic has led a colourful and creative existence in Seattle, at one time hosting a public-access TV show as well as putting out the occasional bit of music under various codenames. This one fills all but two seconds of it's 80-minute capacity. (The picture I'm using to your left is from a previous vinyl release, not the actual album cover -- since it doesn't have one).

The overall feel of the record is, in a word, "drunk." This is not intended as an insult, merely as a warning that the arrangements are loose and sloppy, lyrics are improvised and variable in quality, production haphazard and the songs rarely stick to established structures or regular rhythms. Which is perfectly okay if you're in mood for a little Zappa-liberated minimal indie-rock/punk with an amateurish charm.

A Deadly Combination starts off with "I Thought I'd Miss You (Parts 1 and 2)," and that was probably a bad strategic move. The combined opus is long (nearly nine minutes), production is sloppy and uneven, burying the vocals for the first couple of minutes, seems to wander a bit (into Shaggs territory in places), and seems more like a jam than an actual song (complete with not-lyrics, rather a ad-libbed screed about a former lover). A later track would have been a better opener to ease the listener in before pelting them with the long, rambling jams.

Eventually, the "song" settles down a bit and begins to take shape. If you stick with it, after about three minutes the guitar work transforms, the words form into lyrics, and most importantly the point comes into focus. The singer portrays a petulant and hurting "dumpee" defiantly claiming he doesn't miss the "dumper," protesting too much as it were. The vocal becomes increasing childlike (and prominent) and, once it reaches its apex, begins to devolve again. Kind of like a dream, half-baked and hazy but with definite impressions.

"I Wannabe a Cop" takes a dim view of the police, but I find myself very impressed with how well the music goes with the violent imagery. This is hardly the first band who's put guitar-drums-vocal up front in the mix, but all three are well-done and work together pretty nicely here. This track reminds me of Henry Rollins meeting The Fall, with the sparse arrangement bringing focus on the story, which again only gets fully revealed towards the end -- the character here is again a disgruntled "ex" wishing he was an authority figure so as to enable his revenge.

Lest you feel that the record is going to stick with the dark side of love, "Like Nothing at All" is sure to bring a smile to your face. Who couldn't love an advice lyric like this "Wear something sexy ... like nothing at all"? The production again recalls the Shaggs, but I can still hear the Lou Reed influence. The (funny) premise starts to wear thin after two-and-a-half-minutes, but it's a nice change of pace with a hilarious lyrical bonus in the final minute.

The energy that threatened to leave us towards the end of the previous song returns (along with some better structure) in "Dancing with the Dinosaurs." We can finally hear some bass (by Pete Becktell, who's buried in the mix too much of the time) climbing up to be heard, which in this case really highlights the Corman-esque 60s psych guitar work (very impressively done by Kelly Kristjansen). This one is distinctly Iggy in flavour and style, and tackles a surprisingly "heavy" topic in an upbeat (perhaps a bit silly) fashion. A nice change of pace.

"Why Am I So Slow" features a laid-back sound and some enjoyable call-and-response and vocal overdubbing. By this point, however, the obvious main criticism is that the lyrics should really be worked on, written down and edited for clarity and structure. This gets particularly bad on "Because I Like to Do Nice Things for You," which can't seem to make up its mind whether it's a funny rant or a free-verse song. The stuttering of the singer and amused reaction of the rest of the band (?!) are nice, but had the best of these ideas been written out the song would have been AWESOME.

A frustrating element on this record is that many songs start off very strong: inventive melody, great playing, and a clear lyrical idea like the way "Wakeup Sleeping Beauty" begins, but time and again, the middle bits fall apart in improvisation -- a half a song at best. The chorus here is performed as well as any other band, and you think you're in for a great bit of faux-Iggy or maybe Richard Hell or John Doe, but it's not to be. Admittedly, the premise of the song (the singer's girlfriend snores like a fiend!) is pretty funny, but after such a disciplined opening, it's disappointing that the follow-up is so aimless. There's a faint hint of background singing towards the end, an element that should have been used more often.

"My Favourite Station" seems to be about Heath Ledger, though this is not made explicit. Ted seems to have a knack for some good (if basic) spontaneous rhymes, but again tying these to a traditional structure would strengthen the point. He relies far too much on his talented drummer (Matt Moody) and guitarist (Kristjansen) to carry the song.

The closest we get to a real song is "When You Step in It," which has a great Lou Reed vibe to it. Most of the other songs go on longer than they should and would benefit from being cut back, but "When You Step in It" is exactly the opposite, you wish it had been extended and explored more:

“When You Step in It” by Ted Narcotic from A Deadly Combination

Starting with "I'll Never Give You a Million Dollars," we abandon any semblance of trying to do a "real song," and get into a set of tracks so raw and unpolished that even calling them "jam sessions" is too kind. This might be fire from which a real song is forged, but like sausage and legislation, the audience should never hear the process in action. Even compared to the loose-and-free-range nature of the previous tracks, these aren't ready for (sub) prime time. There's a germ of a good idea in each track, but it never gets any further than that.

The band threatens to get their shit back together with "Ringtone on Your Cellphone," but it's again too sloppy to work out, despite being an excellent premise for a song (boyfriend notices girlfriend has an "unknown friend" on her cell phone). The basic ingredients for this to be a really good song are all painfully obvious here, but like Cheney and reality they simply refuse to come together. I do like the Zappa-esque closing, however.

If you remember a Night Flight show called "New Wave Theatre," you can imagine this band showing up on it. Their talent belies the hit-and-miss execution, the CD sounding for all the world like it was recorded in a single night as the whiskey flowed. Perhaps this album should come with a free bag of weed as a "listening enhancer."

The 34-second-long "You're Mad" closes the album, a little short piece of inventiveness that might have been a heck of a "spiral scratch" finale from a band who clearly can play well, clearly can sing well, and has good ideas for songs, but desperately needs a producer or manager who can help them shape the clay. Or maybe I missed the point.

Even with my criticisms, I'm glad I met Mr. Narcotic and got to hear the band. Bits of this are just delightful in a b-movie way, and I'm just the kind of guy who appreciates things like that. Second-best thing I ever got in a cab, that's for sure.

If you think you'd like to step into Mr. Narcotic's world too, he can be reached at tednarcotic@hotmail.com.


Rick said...

I'm a friend and helper of the band and would like to mention, did you know that this whole cd was made on the spot without rehearsal? Pretty good for a jam session isn't it? The reason it sounds like one is because it is one. This was recorded in Kelly Kristjanson's own studio room.

It's what Ted calls performance art. He's made various songs on the spot for years, only rehearsing and recording some tracks seriously such as the singles "Fake My Own Death" and "I Can See Through The Telephone" from back in 1994 at the Jack Straw Studio.

I'd say this album is really just a teaser of what those guys have been able to do.

Be on the lookout for some good old stuff as we work on converting the sound and video footage of past performances to digital formats.

There is also already a My Erotic Narcotic CD from 1998 titled "I'm The Last Man" which is a compilation of only 14 of the music tracks that appeared on the Ted Narcotic Show.

Anonymous said...

Ted Narcotic is the real deal... I was fortunate enough to take a cab ride with Ted. He was playing the CD in the background as "Wake Up Sleeping Beauty" was blasting from the cab. He told us his story and gave us his CD. Lyrical genius would best explain Ted and the band. I don't review albums, but I find myself always playing the CD on the rotation in my car. My daughter is a huge fan of Wake Up Sleeping Beauty, but then again what 5-year old girl is not a fan of Sleeping Beauty and Ted Narcotic?
Your Northern CA Fan!

chas_m said...

"Wake Up Sleeping Beauty" *is* one of the best tracks ... and to address Rick's comments, yes it's pretty good for a jam session ... the band in particular are pretty up to the challenge, but I can't help but repeat that if some of that raw material was polished up, there's a LOT of possibilities for Ted.

I look forward to the archive!

Rick said...

So far the archive is actually quite interesting. We even have video footage of the band back in 1995 when their old bass player Mike was still with them and the Ted Narcotic Show was not even up and running yet. Mike quit and Pete took his place shortly before the TNS.

There is also video footage of them playing at the art bar while Carrie Akre, a professional solo artist as well as the lead singer of her two older bands Hammerbox and Goodness sang backup vocals!

Who knows what else is in there. Once the job is completed I'll post here again to let everyone know when it's done and give information on how to obtain the set.

for now, you can see some information and sample songs/ videos at


Rick Stilwell said...

I have some good news about Ted and the band members:

Ted has put together a second new CD full of other songs he did shortly after the making of "A Deadly Combination" and has announced a new song he has just written called "A New Direction"

Kelly Kristjanson has been drumming for a nice new folk band called Aim West in his spare time. We have some cool footage of him doing a drum solo. He has also written a bunch of solo songs and recorded one of them with me doing some background piano. Recently he took a songwriting class from Donovan Leitch in England for 2 weeks so his already good music should sound even better with Donovan's techniques.

Pete Becktell has been writing some of his own music. We might see Pete end up making his first solo album in the future.

Matt is still the drummer, that's all I can say about him but he keeps the beat like a drum machine. I kind of wish he would go back to the real drum set though as it can do more than the electric drums.

Kelly's sister Kerri Pinkston, who was the guitar player in My Erotic Narcotic before Kelly gave the drummer position to Matt, performed some songs by her band The Want recently and she has the energy to get back into music if she can only find the time to do it. She, Kelly, a newer friend of theirs and their drummer Jerry did a good job.

I have also finished the first suitcase full of VHS tapes of the Ted Narcotic show, extracting both the video for making DVDs and the audio for making CDs. I am also making a new website besides the myspace. This site will have playable song sample clips from each song on each CD.


The special email address for contacting the band that I will check and forward messages from is


chas_m said...

Great news all around!

Thanks very much for the update, I may repost that as a blog entry so that newer readers can see it.


Rick Stilwell said...

Bad news Chas, our bass player Pete Becktell died yesterday in a family tragedy and we must find a new bass player. The band does wish to continue and not make all of Pete's work be a waste. We have so many videos of him he will be easily remembered. 15 years with the band...

Since A Deadly Combination, Ted had recorded 4 new albums and I transfered 40 DATs onto the computer containing old jam sessions.

my email is rickstilwell1@yahoo.com if you'd like more information

chas_m said...

I am terribly sorry to hear this and hope you will pass on my condolences.

Four more albums, wow. He is really leaving a treasure trove for the Seattle archeologists of 2110, eh? :)

Thanks for the update.

Anonymous said...

i also got that CD from a cabbie in seattle. my friends and I have had alot of fun and great times to the CD!-"i like to nice things for you" and sleeping beauty are our favs!

Anonymous said...

I have no idea how I got this album, but I bet it was in the back of a cab...

I would say these songs are a charming and definitely amusing train wreck. I can only imagine the live performance is not to be missed.