A long time ago in the 1990s a flash of Canadian cultural pride briefly burned bright. The Toronto-based Kids in the Hall were wowing the comedy field with their boundary-crashing, cross-dressing humour while out on the country’s west coast a new band was turning heads and turntables. The Odds or just Odds brought together two stars of the local Vancouver scene, Stephen Drake and Craig Northey. For a while it seemed that everyone in town had a friend of a friend in a band with them. Together they self-produced the cheeky Neopolitan (deliberately misspelled) in 1991, followed by the more major label-ish Bedbugs in 1993. Both made a splash primarily in Canada. The breakthrough moment was 1995’s Good Weird Feeling, an album that launched the band from the indie scene to the almost mainstream with killer cuts like “Truth Untold,” “Radios of Heaven,” and the seductive “I Would Be Your Man.” I was sold. When 1996’s Nest came out I was convinced they were on the verge of major stardom with “Someone Who’s Cool” as the obvious should-be hit single. Man was I wrong. And then that moment of Canadian cultural coolness passed. The Kids in the Hall movie Brain Candy bombed at the box office (even an Odds soundtrack song couldn’t save it) while Odds themselves broke up in 1999. What could have been wasn’t. It seemed like the new century would have to get along without them.
Fast forward to the new millennium and the band minus Stephen Drake (and plus newcomer Murray Atkinson) decide to reunite as the New Odds and then, later, just back to Odds. Since then they’ve released 2 albums, 3 EPs and a stand-alone single. 2008’s Cheerleader came on strong, reviving the band’s signature guitar-heavy melodic rock and roll sound. Tracks like “Getting My Attention,” “Out of Mind” and “Good Times Rolled Away” harken back to their earlier work, particularly from the Good Weird Feeling period. By contrast “Cloud Full of Rocks” and “Write It In Lightning” really remind me of Sloan. Things shift into Kim Mitchell or Tom Cochrane good-time rocking territory on the Corner Gas theme “My Happy Place.” For singles I’d take “I Feel Like This All the Time” with its laid back hooky jangle, though “River is Cried” is another seductive slow burn.
Five years later the band was ready with another new album but marketing concerns saw it carved up into three separate EPs released over a two-year period circa 2013-14. The original LP only finally got an official release this Fall. No matter, Universal Remote is a timeless rock and roll package, equally at home whether it be 1999, 2013 or right now. If Cheerleader’s sound was lean and focused then Universal Remote fattens things up, multiplying and overlapping guitar parts all over the place. Opening track “He Thinks He Owns You” builds its sonic palate bit by bit, conjuring up a distinct atmosphere. “Anything You Want” is just a gorgeous slice of guitar poprock, a radio ready single if ever there was one. “High” even hits some country notes a la Jayhawks and Blue Rodeo. And then there’s the obvious hit, “Party Party Party,” a song that busts out the chord-slashing rock fun like an indie rock BTO. By contrast “Ghost Bike” leans into a hypnotic keyboard arrangement, adding another dimension to the album.
It’s great when a favourite band makes a comeback but there’s always a moment or two of trepidation about whether the new material will measure up. With Odds, you can relax. Cheerleader and Universal Remote compare more than favourably with the band’s original catalogue. These records are like cherished friends who’ve returned to the neighbourhood just to hang out.