Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With Timbuk 3.
Directed by Carlos Grasso.
(MCA Home Video, color, 40 min.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

The success of the Austin husband-and-wife folk duo Timbuk 3 is a freak of the video age. Sure their 1986 hit "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" was plenty catchy, but its hook would never have cracked radio without MTV, which picked up instantly on I.R.S. video honcho Carl Grasso's cheap, oblique promo clip. Commercially, the duo has the look of another MTV one-shot--they haven't had a hit since. But unlike the Stray Cats, say, or Men at Work, they're on the map--their music is substantial enough to merit a following. Thus this Grasso-directed compilation.

Comprising nine song shorts strung together with casual interviews and local TV footage from the little town of Eden, Texas, which they discovered after cutting their second album, Eden Alley, in L.A., the tape begs comparison with David Byrne's True Stories. But though as residents they probably feel more for Texas than Byrne does, and though the Eden material is charming in a student-art-vid way, the structure isn't just oblique, it's factitious. What holds Greetings from Eden Alley together is the dry, wry, tolerant presence of Pat and Barbara K. MacDonald, who maintain their kind cool no matter what images Grasso sticks them with--TV-toting burros, gun-toting tots, septugenarian ballroom dancers, or plain old country sunset.

We're sorry this tape is designed to promote Timbuk 3's second and second-best album--the debut's "Facts About Cats" and "Haircuts and Attitudes" are riper for visualization than one-dimensional social commentary like "Rev. Jack and His Roamin' Cadillac Church" and "All I Want for Christmas." But both director and musicians have more to offer than most of the bozos who turn out such product, and we're glad they're in there pitching.

Video Review, Sept. 1988