Well, this was bound to happen. After having cause and capability to revisit a college radio chart from 1989 that I helped craft (it was probably from somewhere around my one-year anniversary at the station), my mind’s been awhirl with thoughts of all the more obscure records on it. There were plenty of albums included there that have received at least periodic revisits from me over the years, but I’m currently more intrigued by those that were used to fill the airwaves during that particular week only to see them later fade almost entirely from my attention. Casting back to those days, I suspect Timbuk 3 might have been the artist the younger version of me would be most surprised to learn didn’t endure.
Edge of Allegiance was the band’s third album, and it was positioned by their label as an artistic breakthrough. The duo’s big surprise hit from a couple years earlier netted them plenty of airplay (and hopefully dollars), but it also burdened them with some unwanted pigeonholing. There was an undeniable novelty element to that track. It was difficult to shake the corresponding perception of the band as a little goofy, even though they clearly had more pointed thoughts they wanted to express in their music. The hit was laden with cynicism, but no one seemed to notice that. Timbuk 3 pushed against the diminishing perspective with their sophomore effort, Eden Alley. The follow up to that, it seemed, was meant to establish their voice definitely. As I recall, my cohorts and I bought into that narrative, at least initially.
The truth is: we probably rounded up. Timbuk 3 was one of the few bands with a touch of national recognition that hailed from Wisconsin, the upper Midwestern state where our transmitter tower was planted. At that particular moment, they felt like our best hope for having a major artist in our midst. Much as the folks at my station loved the Bodeans (and that year, we really loved them), it was already clear their chance at greater esteem had passed, and Violent Femmes were sure to never quite push past niche, no matter how good we found their most recent record, something of a comeback, to be. The hopes we had for Timbuk 3 were fleeting, but they were there. For me, they were strongest when I played “National Holiday,” the lead track off of that album, energized by its catchy anti-patriotism in a way that comforted my teen-aged political insurrectionism. Maybe the feeling didn’t last. Maybe it didn’t need to.
Listen or download –> Timbuk 3, “National Holiday”
(Disclaimer: It appears to me that practically all of the Timbuk 3 catalog is out of print, at least as physical objects that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the deserving creators. You can absolutely buy one of their t-shirts online, though. Regardless, the track is shared here under the principles of fair use and no malice or thievery intended. I will gladly and promptly remove it from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request. Also, if you like the material and wish to provide some fiscal thanks because of it, explore a little. There may be other ways to support the artists.)