The Eraserheads, Part Three: The Circus Years

And here’s part three of the Eraserheads article. I wish I’d finished it — in particular, with a little analysis of my favorite Eraserheads song ever, “Alapaap.”

The Eraserheads, Part Three: The Circus Years

But for the second album, Circus, an album of the highest order, the Eraserheads made a stunning leap into the sphere of Pure Pop Perfection, already more than hinted at by ultraelectromagneticpop! From the sly, skewed and skewering humor of “Punk Zappa” to the irrepressible longing of “Sembreak,” the album probed, with sparkling insight, the vagaries of the everyday: insomnia, drinking, smoking pot, pornography, semester breaks, obsessive music fans, pining for the one you love. Never have the Eraserheads been so earthbound and yet so transcendent at the same time.

The torch song “Kailan,” for instance, is both an uncanny doo-wop imitation (albeit one filtered through an Apo Hiking Society sensibility) and an in-joke, with only the slightest hint of irony. The often-abused “unplugged” or acoustic version – usually meant to convey some sort of sincerity about the music – actually works here, in “Kailan Lounge.” Buendia’s vocals are incredibly expressive here – but then again, so is the rest of the band. Adoro’s guitars sound extremely assured on “Wishing Wells”; Zabala’s bass-playing is fuller and more complex on “Magasin“; Marasigan drums up a storm on rave-ups like “Insomya” and “Alkohol.”

The sheer unpretentiousness of the Eraserheads’ music can be seen in concert; obviously they aren’t “too cool” to not lead the crowd on a sing-along to the chorus, or to not play a crowd-pleasing medley. The wonderful shamelessness in incorporating harmonizing vocals or pa-pa-pa-pa bridges attests to a certain kind of musical sincerity. (Buendia actually gets away with singing “Let me hear you sing it” between the doo-doo-doo-doo refrain in “With a Smile.”)

Circus, as I had pointed out, represents an incredible stylistic jump from the first album, taking listeners along with them on their forays into different musical territory. But it is, at the same time, quite cognizant of their musical influences, from the Apo Hiking Society to the J. Geils Band.

Which brings me to the amazing “Magasin,” which at first listen sounds like a pale ripoff of the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold.” This is hardly the case: the Eraserheads make the latter sound completely leering and adolescent. (Okay, so there may be deeper philosophical implications found in “My blood runs cold / My memory has just been sold,” but I doubt it.) Their plots are similar: guy picks up a nudie magazine, and discovers (the former) girl of his dreams inside. Buendia’s protagonist is momentarily guilt-stricken (“Sana’y hindi nakita“), but in the act of looking his entire world has suddenly changed (“Iba na ang ‘yong tingin / Iba na ang ‘yong ngiti / Nagbago na’ng lahat sa ‘yo“). “Magasin” is more complex, more in tune with the turmoil and guilty pleasure of seeing one’s boyhood fantasy naked to the world. It shouldn’t be this way, he must say to himself. She is not the same anymore. But then he looks. And looks. By the time we get to the song’s punchline of sorts, he has succumbed to the temptation. Such drama in a pop song!

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