The Arrogant Worms,
Semi-Conducted
(self-produced, 2002)

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has a sense of humor. And not just a "Let's do Gilbert and Sullivan" sense of humor. This is a "Let's do flatulent cows and barfing sharks" sense of humor. This orchestra served as the "biggest, most expensive back-up band" ever for the Arrogant Worms, an Ontario trio of silly purveyors of comedy songs.

The 13 Arrogant Worms songs on Semi-Conducted have all been recorded previously; they're among the favorites of Worms' fans. Instead of providing new material, this CD brings a fresh -- and more vibrant -- interpretation of well-received songs, accented with the swells and flourishes of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Semi-Conducted opens with the "Overture" of catchy tunes shamelessly interrupted by a "Big Fat Road Manager" sound check. That sets the tone for a wacky evening of "symphony improv," including some apt lyric variations just for the occasion. Chris Patterson's dramatic flair comes through in this vivid rendition of "Log In to You," a tribute to the punnability of unrequited Internet love. Mike McCormick's "I Am Cow" is full and reverent, while the orchestra's strings and winds take turns carrying the hymn-like melody. One of the finest vocal efforts is Trevor Strong's daring performance of "Dangerous," an ode to safety as a lifestyle choice.

In some songs, the orchestra fades into the background after a stirring introduction. In others the symphony, conducted by David Hoyt, adds depth to the songs without overpowering the vocals. The low strings provide a menacing element to "Billy the Theme Park Shark" while an arrangement reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, mysteriously introduces the not-so-stealthy "Last Saskatchewan Pirate."

On a slightly negative note, though the introductions for the songs are humorous, a few lack staying power. The lengthy celebrity prelude to "Rocks and Trees" and the enthusiastic lead into "Gaelic Song" do grate on a nerve or two, especially if the young fan in the car insists on pressing the repeat button on the CD player.

There are apparently entertaining visual elements presented by the tuxedo- and sneaker-clad singers, which obviously do not emanate from the audio CD. I look forward to the promised DVD to gain the full effect of the Arrogant Worms with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. In the meantime, Semi-Conducted is much more than semi-entertaining.

- Rambles
written by Julie Bowerman
published 19 June 2004

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