Bargainville was and is the definitive Moxy Früvous collection for most fans of the band. Not just because it was the first, not just because so many of the tracks remain favorites to this day, but because it covers the entire spectrum of moods, styles and themes which Früvous is capable of. And they're capable of just about anything.
The first track, River Valley, opens with two guitars followed by the voice of David Matheson, singing a single verse with a superficially environmental theme. Jian Ghomeshi joins him on the second verse as they recall being there as kids. But none of it's sappy; unexpected lines like "you can tell me stories/'Bout a time before pinstripe suits, dippers, grits, and tories" throw that off as Mike Ford and bass singer Murray Foster add their voices and the song becomes more and more intense. The song ends with the same question it opened with, sung in a perfect four-part harmony.
Still in a political mood, Stuck in the 90's starts up in the same musical vein as its precessor as it talks about a ficticious liberal who's having trouble not having a conservative lifestyle. Lines like "Private investment efficiency, cool fiscal plannin'/Sounds like more Pat Buchanan" remind us that Früvous is still a silly bunch at heart, even as they nudge at the hypocrisy of principles we all live out every day. Sarcasm isn't their style, but irony certainly is.
B.J. Don't Cry arrives next, and the relentless "Modern Major General"-style rhymes together with Mike's deliberately squeaky voice drop us squarely into the offbeat world this band revels in. It's more upbeat than the last two, and Dave's accordion adds to the color of absurdity without overwhelming the guitars. Four-part harmonies turn into two alternating sets of lyrics overlapping perfectly, something Früvous has always set themselves apart with.
Jian's quiet voice rehearsing its lines opens the next track before stating, rather than singing, that "I have a college pal who/Says we can pay one price for two/Uhh, just ask for Roger..." and Video Bargainville is off and going. The accordion and tambourine would turn anyone else off if they didn't work so well with the spoken lyrics and minor chord-mood. No more politics here, just a guy relentlessly rhyming about a small video rental store desperate for more business. If it's to be considered the title track for this eclectic collection, it's only because the video store itself is just as diverse and full of little surprises.
A single acoustic guitar and Dave's unwavering voice open Fell in Love, a lovely song which somehow keeps you from ever noticing how unusual the actual lyrics are: "She always said it again/Just when she'd said it, that's when she'd say it/She said my pasta was delicious, bit repititious/That kind of thing made me crazy." It's not really about romance, just about the kind of unexpected relationships we've all found ourselves in at one time or another. Subtle, fun, and still beautiful to listen to.
And then, for something completely different, we get dropped into The Lazy Boy and are serenaded by the upbeat a cappella voices of all four members (with a non-intrusive percussion background) going on about all the living that can and should be done from the arms of a comfortable recliner. The mood keeps going right on into My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors, which replaces the a cappella with instruments and four-part harmony on the choruses as we're told about the trials and tribulations of a couple who's one-half bar-hopper and one-half literature nut. Fortunately, it all ends happily with a food fight.
The next track, The Drinking Song, is well-known and played as the final song in every concert. Fans know it's based on real events and a real friend of the band, and always join arms and sway together. The mood and music is similar to "Miss American Pie", as is the effect of sadness it has on the listener.
Morphee keeps the same mellow mood, but entirely in French. One acoustic guitar is colored with first Mike's gentler voice, then all four in harmony. Francophiles would hear the brief, relaxed tale of one man ending a long day in a noisy world with the peace of sleep.
A single, clear prounouncement by Dave opens the next track, the legendary fan-favorite King of Spain. The song is sped up and boosted with percussion and sheer volume when it's played live (near the end of every single concert), but here it's just a little less intense. No guitars, no instruments, just percussion and a cappella telling the story of a former monarch who gave up everything to serve pizza and drive zambonis in Canada. Quite possibly the perfect song for this band, and for those who didn't hear "Stuck in the 90's" as a radio single, it has been responsible for bringing in countless many fans.
Darlington Darling follows, and the accordion is back with a single steady snare and tambourine accompanying it. Jian's singing is joined by the others as we hear an auto assembly line worker patiently bemoaning how he spends all day assembling expensive cars which he himself could never afford to give his beloved. The regular rhythm and the speaker's inability to dwell on his problems while thinking about work have the strange effect of putting the listener right into his shoes.
An unexpected slowdown follows next, as Bittersweet comes on and gives bassist Murray his first and only singing lead in this collection. His low voice and the soft "oohhh-oohhh"ing of the other band members combine with a slow tambourine beat, and another dose of ironic political commentary comes through the lyrics. The melody keeps it from ever being stinging or harsh, though -- when we hear about how "the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled/and dark clouds filled the sky" we can almost hear the rain outside our door, as we're invited to think about the people who don't have the luxury of shutting it out with doors and windows.
A bold guitar and relentless woodblock bring us out of our reverie as Laika starts, and Mike relates to an unnamed woman how her refusal to recognize him all the way from childhood into adulthood reminds him of that first lonely, abandoned astronaut. Harmonies and references to Walter Cronkite and "Hail to the Chief" pervade to remind us that, yes, we're still in the odd and unexpected world of Früvous. And just in time, too, because the next short track is an a cappella version of Spiderman, a modified version of the theme song from the old 1960s Spider-Man television cartoon.
The album ends where it began, however: not with more silliness, but instead with a Gulf War Song sung, unexpectedly enough, from the band's point of view. Forming a sort of epilogue to this collection, Dave and the others relate how "We got a call to write a song about the war in the Gulf/But we shouldn't hurt anyone's feelings/So we tried, then gave up, 'cause there was no such song/But the trying was very revealing." We're asked how a young adult can really comment on a war that is more about energy interests than good versus evil. Like the very first song, this last one ends with a hanging question: "Is that how it always will be?"
Despite their love of fun and absurdity, Früvous is more interested in using those things as tools to get a worthwhile point across. It may not be a new or revolutionary point, but it's a good one, and their unique way of conveying it is never represented better.