Kids of Widney High
Special Music From Special Kids
(Rounder 8014)

I guess there's no right or wrong way to produce an album by a group of severely handicapped teenagers, but I'm of the opinion that perhaps heavily sequenced drum machines and synthesizers don't get things off on to a good start. Special Music sounds every bit as overproduced as virtually every album made in 1989, making the vocalists sound much more ridiculous than they need to.

Hear me out, hear me out. I'm not saying that this album is ridiculous because the singers are handicapped; I'm saying this: I would have trouble listening to a late-'80s Smokey Robinson album. You just shouldn't try to make a group like this sound hip. Stick with guitar, bass, piano, drums. Everyone loves to rock, regardless of their life's challenges. But don't use an album like this to let out your Paul Hardcastle side!

Alas, it is all said and done. The songs are charming enough: "New Car," "Teddy Bear," "Hollywood," "Throw Away The Trash," "Widney High," etc. There's even a tune called "Primary Reinforcement," indicating the atmosphere of learning that pervades the album. But it is impossible to listen with a straight face. The disparity between the super-slick music and the handicapped singers is just too great.

I mean, how are you supposed to react when a song starts out with a menacing sounding, Miami Vice-like guitar/synth melody, and then a chorus of clearly disabled children begin chanting "Better watch out or the insects will get you!"? It's either laugh or go insane, the way I see it.

Apparently this was a favorite of Faith No More/Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton who, frankly, doesn't need this kind of encouragement. I still can't find anyone who will listen to it all the way through (except myself, course). It's so uncomfortable and so disturbing on so many levels that it's hard to tell what you're supposed to do when listening. Maybe the problem is it was made with too much love, overshadowing the best interests of the kids. Frankly, I think they should remedy the situation by reuniting for Kids of Widney High Unplugged.

Review by Ron Rayner