• Brains
  • The Brains (Mercury) 1980 
  • Electronic Eden (Mercury) 1981 
  • Dancing Under Streetlights EP (Landslide) 1982 

The Brains’ story is typical of many independent bands who signed to not-so-swift big labels. Led by lanky Tom Gray, this Atlanta-based quartet first garnered widespread attention with a striking homemade single, “Money Changes Everything.” The Brains subsequently recorded two LPs for Mercury, but neither sold a speck. Following a divorce by mutual consent, the group returned, poorer and wiser, to the independent label scene.

On both albums, producer Steve Lillywhite concocts a thick, heavy sound that subjugates Gray’s synthesizers and Rick Price’s aggressive guitars to the tunes themselves. And for good reason: Gray’s songs are tart accounts of love and confusion perfectly suited to his dry, sardonic voice. The Brains offer a rougher and less glib variant of the Cars’ ironic sensibility, which is probably why they never achieved widespread popularity. Gray and crew unsettle rather than divert.

The Brains includes a re-recording of the cynical “Money Changes Everything” and “Gold Dust Kids,” a pithy, unsentimental portrait of decadence. Electronic Eden features the bitter romanticism of “Heart in the Street,” covered (badly) by Manfred Mann and “Collision,” a humorously tasteless look at a brain-damaged car-crash survivor.

The four-song EP is more of the same intense longing and hidden passion. If the Brains sound a bit weary, chalk it up to the record biz blues. Dancing Under Streetlights isn’t the best starting point, but it’s a worthy continuation. The Brains have since disbanded. (As an undoubtedly lucrative footnote, Cyndi Lauper covered “Money Changes Everything” on her first LP.)

[Jon Young]