Everything you really need to know about B.A.L.L. is that Bird contains a smirking cover of George Harrison’s “Bangla Desh.” This dual swipe at rock star pomposity and sacred cow causes pretty much defines the B.A.L.L. worldview. How funny you find the joke depends on how resonant the whole post-Beatles era of rock self-importance was to you, and how tolerant you are of grown men who think that lampooning it is a meaningful activity.
Formed by Velvet Monkeys singer/guitarist Don Fleming and drummer Jay Spiegel, along with producer/bassist Kramer and percussionist Dave Licht, B.A.L.L. fills Period with amusing, grungy, guitar-driven crude-pop tunes like “The French” and “My TV Is Broke” (so what else is new?). The joke behind the band comes to full flower on Bird, the cover art of which is a re-creation of the Beatles’ infamous butcher sleeve. Besides “Bangla Desh,” the tunes here include Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy,” Harrison’s “Wah-Wah” and Marc Bolan’s “Buick Mackane”; all of them are kind of funny but none shed any light on the original songs. The band’s own material is mildly entertaining but generally faceless.
The back cover of Trouble Doll calls it “the disappointing third LP,” but that’s not the half of it. The cover drawing is blatantly racist and without discernible context; the faux-protest song “African Sunset” (on CD only) doesn’t promote intercultural understanding, either. While some songs are moderately diverting, other stuff is barely of demo quality. (One side was recorded live at CBGB, and includes material from Bird as well as covers.) The very deliberate attempt to make sloppiness a virtue backfires as often as it clicks here.
Strangely enough, in the midst of a reportedly acrimonious breakup, the band (which Fleming later reassembled, steering clear of Kramer, as Gumball) completed its best album, Four (Hardball). Side One offers fully fleshed-out, fast, funny and energetic songs, while the flip comprises a trash suite of sorts, with five grunge-guitar-heaven instrumentals. (It’s likely these were meant to be complete vocal numbers and that Fleming quit before finishing them, but that’s not how it sounds.) All in all, a worthy precursor to Rake, the LP Fleming next made with a reformed Velvet Monkeys.