Canada’s Crash Test Dummies was a hit even before releasing an album or firming up its five-member lineup. Prior to the release of The Ghosts That Haunt Me, the band had a fan in Cowboy Junkies singer Margo Timmins, who told Rolling Stone in March 1990 that its demo tape was one of her favorite albums of the previous year. At the time, Crash Test Dummies had a revolving cast of musicians — some still employed as coat-check people and other support staff at Winnipeg’s Blue Note club — undecided about making the band their full-time profession. The tape that grabbed Timmins’ attention, and also that of Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin (who quickly signed on to produce the debut album), included “Superman’s Song,” which became the band’s first hit.
Recorded as a quartet of Brad Roberts (vocals, guitar), Ellen Reid (vocals, keyboards), Benjamin Darvill (harmonica, mandolin) and brother Dan Roberts (bass) — drummer Michel Dorge joined afterward — The Ghosts That Haunt Me includes that number and others in a Celtic-rock vein (“Winter Song,” “Here on Earth (I’ll Have My Cake)”), as well as a cover of the Replacements’ “Androgynous.” The album (and band) gets its distinctive personality from Roberts’ unusually deep baritone singing and deadpan off-kilter lyrics: the hostel trip of “The Voyage,” the rural cure of “The Country Life,” the angry criticisms of “Thick-Necked Man.” Crash Test Dummies was quickly embraced in certain circles as an intelligent, sophisticated and accessible blast of fresh air.
Roberts overhauled the group’s sound on the second album. He purged the Celtic citations and hired ex-Talking Head Jerry Harrison as co-producer to develop a more layered style. He got what he wanted on God Shuffled His Feet, a record just left-of-center enough to qualify as “alternative” on American radio yet friendly enough to mass taste. Released as a single, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” established the Dummies as quirky originals in the US, but the song (as well as “Swimming in Your Ocean” and “How Does a Duck Know?”) failed to get much airplay in Canada, causing a rift between the band and its Canadian critics, who wondered if the Dummies had sanded off the rougher edges for America’s benefit.