The Barbaras are yet another what-if story in a city full of them. It goes something like this: After a two-year run of chaotic, costumed live shows, the indie pop group of Billy Hayes, Will McElroy, Alex Gates, Bennett Foster, and Stephen Pope were poised to go big with their buoyant songs and irresistible stage presence when Jay Reatard, who had been recording them, poached their rhythm section and the band splintered, with Hayes and Pope hitting the road with Reatard and McElroy, Gates, and Foster forming Magic Kids.
We were left with a few stray mp3s of their Gonerfest 5 performance, some spectacular Don Perry photographs, and that patented Memphis musical frustration until last year's discovery of the raw tracks of their aborted debut record on one of Reatard's hard drives. Now that Alicja Trout has polished the recordings and Goner has released them, along with the rest of the band's salvaged output, as a 15-track album, we can answer the question: Were the Barbaras as great as we remember?
Yes. From the frenetic opening "la-la-las" of "Day at the Shrine" to the overdrive-laden acoustic strumming of "Annual Botanical," the Barbaras bubble over with ideas and energy. Their signature live song "Topsy Turvy Magic" launches itself early and keeps hitting new heights until the climactic harmonies hover in the stratosphere for an impossibly long moment. At 3:02, it seems like a Yes jam compared to the rest of the album's songs, most of which barely make it to two minutes — imagine Minutemen were apolitical Beach Boys fans, and you get some idea of the density and brilliance of these compositions. Able to turn on a dime, unafraid to be goofy, and gifted with a breezy sense of irony that simultaneously celebrates and mocks the Nuggets psychedelia that infuses their sound, the Barbaras are just a whole lot of fun. — Chris McCoy