Saturday, 12 September 2009

Saturday Spotlight: Combustible Edison

I first encountered Combustible Edison's music back in early 2008, when I was browsing through iTunes and just happened to stumble upon their debut album. After listening to the 30-second samples of most of the songs (granted, 30 seconds of a song is rarely enough to gauge whether or not you like a band by), I was convinced enough to buy the album. The music was excellent (a mix of lounge and jazz), but what also made me attracted to the band was the veil of mystery that surrounded its origins.

The group began, surprisingly enough, as a rock band named Christmas (you can see some of their videos here) that released three albums in the 80s and, finding little critical or commercial success, radically revamped their image to become Combustible Edison. I, Swinger appeared shortly after in 1994, and had far more success -- critically and commercially -- than the Christmas albums ever did.

Here's the video for one song from that record, the groovy "Millionaire's Holiday":

One of the drawbacks of being a fan of a band like Combustible Edison is that footage of their live performances is few and far between (as are colour photos, the only one of which I actually like is included at the end of this post). However, some television station in Massachusetts chose to film a performance way back in 1992 -- and while the quality isn't stellar (this was the early Nineties, after all) it's still one of the only ways to witness what a great act Combustible Edison was live. Here's the opening number of that concert, the B-side "Summer Samba":

While I, Swinger certainly was successful, one could argue that the band really got their big break when they were asked to compose the score for the 1995 comedy Four Rooms. The film itself received mixed reviews, but the accompanying soundtrack was met with acclaim, expanding the band's audience. One of the songs from the soundtrack, "Vertigogo", was even considered for a Best Original Song nomination at the Academy Awards, but was eventually disqualified because its lyrics apparently made no sense (you can read about that here). The video for "Vertigogo" is below.

After recording the Four Rooms soundtrack, Combustible Edison began work on their sophomore effort, Schizophonic. In my opinion, it's not as good as their other albums, but you can listen to the songs "Morticia" and "Lonelyville" and make a decision for yourself:

Any worries about Schizophonic's quality were quickly dispelled when the group released what is arguably their finest work, The Impossible World, in 1998. Full of spacy instrumentation, clicks and whirls, the album displayed Combustible Edison's lyrical and musical abilities at full maturity. Take a listen to "Pink Victim" and, hopefully, you'll see what I mean:

So, you may be asking, what became of Combustible Edison?

Well, after The Impossible World's release, the group split up (it's never been specified why) and moved on to other careers. Nevertheless, their catalog stands testament to a band that took the somewhat outdated lounge-jazz genre firmly into the late 20th century while showcasing a flair for experimentation that set them apart from other lounge revival groups that emerged in the same period.

We may not have the band together, but having their music is the next best thing.

Until next time,



  1. Hi Paul -

    Aaron from Combustible Edison here. I can clear up the "mystery" of the band's origins. Christmas and Combustible Edison existed simultaneously for a while. CE grew out of a larger group the Millionaire had assembled to be part of a stage show he'd written (one a few he staged over the years - a previous one featured a Public-Enemy-style "brut squad" armed with squirtguns for dousing the audience in cologne). The core of the orchestra stuck together to play, at first mostly for fun. But when Christmas' bass player James McNew left to join Yo La Tengo, that was it for Christmas.

    That concert footage was shot at the Green Street Grill in Cambridge - a restaurant we played many times, so tiny we didn't even bother amplifying the drums or vibes.

    The members of the band are all involved in some music-making or other - Millionaire lives in LA working in film; Nick plays in Chihcha Libre; hear Peter on myspace (petermdixonmusic); Lily works for a non-profit bringing classical music to city kids; and I play with a New Orleans style parade band in Boston.

    Thanks for the spotlight!