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No. 1 With A Bullet
Artist: Elementary Penguin 
Label: Toupee Records
Length: 18 tracks / 57:06 min

There's quite a bit going for Elementary Penguin on No. 1 With A Bullet, their first official full-length release. For one, they have a relatively unique sound. Influences ranging from Prince to Powderfinger already promise something interesting. No. 1 With A Bullet draws on a colorful palette of styles including funk, disco and rock/pop. Inspiration has undoubtedly come from old and new music alike, this being a very progressive retro-infused record. Unlike some bands who try to incorporate many different sounds, Penguin haven't released an uncohesive, 'no-stick' album. You can listen to No. 1 With A Bullet and find yourself amazed at the way in which the band have kept everything "Elementary Penguin."

How did they do this? Lead vocalist Ben Tupas certainly plays an important role. Besides maybe the Prine-esque whispery vocals on the title track, Tupas carries the album along with a distinctive voice.  There are other factors, too. The lyrics are particularly significant. Serious themes are examined, but on the whole the album doesn't come across as overly solemn in its message. To stop it from becoming too serious, there are fun party tunes like "Da Funkhaters" and "Gimmesummadatfunk." There are also little break-ups (as on DC Talk's older albums), to lighten the mood. That said, Penguin know when to be serious. "Uneasy" deals with false expectations of new Christians, who have the attitude that 'everything will be alright'. "It's not that easy", says the chorus.

"Do You Know the Way?," talks about Christians who turn their backs on God and return to their old way of life. Incorporated into this theme is a refreshing message of hope.

Do you know the way to heaven?
Let alone to San Jose?
Your memory strains for just a second
Until your head's hurting again

Who sees past the failures in us?
Job well done
Rest is won for the failures like us
He sees past the failures in us
While we're on the run

Stealing the show, however, as far as the lyrics go, is opening number, "Rhodes Scholar." It talks of someone who has it made, who's at the top of the line: "six figure income", "yacht in the ocean", etc. If you've been spoon-fed a little too many cheesy CCM lyrics, you would expect some sort of blatant confession about how bad the person really feels and how unhappy he really is, because of course he doesn't have God in their lives. Elementary Penguin avoid that cliche:
Do I require anything more?
Do I need anything less?
Is there a void that has to be filled?
At this present time I'm feeling alright
and further on,
I am a Rhodes Scholar
My faith is like a chicken wing
Meatless unsatisfying
I'll eat when I'm hungry
Rather than spelling out exactly how the person feels, they hint at it through questions which express doubt and comments such as the one above.

Producer Caleb James (Battered Fish) did a fine job on No. 1 With A Bullet. The sonics on this album are as good as any major label production. The instruments are given equal priority in the mix, something which I found refreshing in today's over-emphasis on certain instruments and under-emphasis on others.

Another refreshing thing about No. 1 With A Bullet is the length. There are eighteen tracks here (admitedly, some of these don't clock much), totalling close to an hour of music. Combined with the quality of the music, that makes for one heck of a pleasant hour!

Eric Daams 12/19/2000



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