Chicago’s Service made its longplaying vinyl debut — following a couple of cassette-only releases and a four-song EP — as a guitar’n’keyboards quintet (guests add sax, trombone, tuba and fiddle), armed with wry material about such topics as sobriety (“Straight Song”) and marriage (“Ring Gets Tighter”), all skillfully delivered in modest pop-rock-country arrangements topped off by David Briggs’ sardonic voice.
The blue-vinyl George’s Duty-Free Goulash, released in a clear plastic cover with a “Basic Side” and a “Bonus Side,” is rushed in tempo and semi-punky in tone. Indicative of the Service’s open-ended stylistic view, “Defeated” runs together a new wavey melody, skating rink organ and the lonesome wail of harmonica; “You’ll Come Back,” however, is swanky cocktail piano jazz. Somehow, the strong melodies and textures hold it all together.
Several Servicemen stayed home when the group began work on its next album. The excellent In Nonsense Is Strength finds the group reduced to a quartet, with guitarist/songwriter Rick Mosher and keyboardist Kenn Goodman (proprietor of the Pravda label) sharing the vocals. The resulting album of passionate post-garagepunk (plus organ and tuba) has great material and dynamic performances that pour on the electric energy but never get out of control. At times (“If You Will, I Will”) resembling the Replacements, elsewhere (“Honesty Defends”) following an unselfconscious ’60s path, Nonsense is anything but. (The cassette contains a bonus track.)
Recorded during another lineup change, the lighter-sounding Head vs Wall features no less than four separate bassists (the former, the future and two fill-ins) and Mosher’s Westerbergian melodies. Besides the serious pop/rock goods, Head vs Wall features a remake of “El Amigo” (from George’s Duty Free Goulash) and a ’70s-styled hard-rocker entitled “Hogfat” (“because it sounds like Foghat, that’s why”).