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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons


August 6, 1997

So Painful it's Funny


Julia SweeneyJulia Sweeney, God Said Ha! (Warner Bros. 1997) - God Said Ha! is a double-disc set capturing Julia Sweeney's confessional live performance regarding family, friends, love, and death. One of the best new albums of the year, God Said Ha! will have you laughing and crying as Sweeney bares her soul.

God Said Ha! was recorded during a single night in August 1996 at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles. However, God Said Ha! really started when Sweeney left Saturday Night Live and moved to Los Angeles, hoping to recover from her divorce from T.V. writer Stephen Hibbert.

But, as Sweeney says, "God Said Ha!". Instead, Sweeney discovered that her beloved brother, Mike, had advanced lymphoma. Then her parents moved down from Spokane, Washington, for the most difficult nine months in Sweeney's life, as her brother suffered ever-worsening health problems.

It's impossible to convey the startling intimacy and honesty of God Said Ha! Sweeney developed the show during a series of improvised monologues in an L.A. comedy club during Mike's illness. As she says, the performances were like weekly, on-stage, therapy sessions.

In perhaps the cruelest twist, Sweeney was diagnosed with cervical cancer during the worst of her brother's illness. Thus, Sweeney juxtaposes comic anecdotes regarding her parent's behavior with touching stories about her brother's spinal-tap chemotherapy, all told with intimacy and black humor.

Even more ironic, Sweeney had the same dressing room as SNL founding member Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989, and the same doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Sweeney later sewed the monologues together for full-length shows in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. In the best tradition of storytelling, Sweeney introduces characters and situations early on to which she returns later in the performance.

The best comedy albums (for instance, Steve Martin's) hold up with repeated listenings. And that same trait buoys God Said Ha! - you can listen to it again and again, finding new meaning as Sweeney tries to understand the calamities that befell her family.

A triumph of the human spirit, God Said Ha! is a must-own. I can't understand why the L.A. critics are ignoring it - maybe the accolades were shared during her live performances. But this CD should not be missed.

Cheap TrickCheap Trick, Cheap Trick (Red Ant Records 1997) - Ah, Cheap Trick. Purveyors of power pop from the great midwest. Took punk by its angry little hand and helped shepherd it into the mainstream with such great late 70's releases as In Color and Live at Budokan.

The last decade found the band on uneven footing, as they changed labels and fought off the hair bands. Yet the original foursome remains intact, with Robin Zander on vocals, Tom Petersson on base, Rick Nielsen on guitars, and the one-and-only Bun E. Carlos on drum kit.

Playing with more sound than fury these days, the new release features solid production work and the band's well-honed harmonies. Thus, tracks like "Carnival Game" and "Baby No More" move right along.

But the album's shortcoming is its lack of catchy, memorable tunes. Cheap Trick could make a giant leap forward ala Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever if their material was a more insightful/introspective. Until then, Cheap Trick remains one card shy of a winning hand.

-- Randy Krbechek

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