do you really want to change?

Oingo Boingo's final bow was a tad ignoble. By 1994, time had passed them by and it was painfully obvious, even to them. With New Wave formally undone by grunge, their style of gothic camp was now strictly verboten. Even though ska-punk was blatantly cribbing Boingo's horn charts, the fucking kids would probably never admit it. The band wasn't helped by the fact that  Danny Elfman (with the able assistance of guitarist, Steve Avila) was busy pursuing a much more lucrative career as a soundtrack composer.

By the time Boingo (now sans the Oingo) cut their last studio album, they'd sacked the entire horn section—even though it was such distinctive characteristic of the band. As an album, Boingo fails almost completely. Sure, it's dark and dramatic with a cinematic sweep—but it all feels terribly forced. The lyrics are often pedantic and curmudgeonly. It's cartoonish in ways that never quite work. The album closes with Change: a nearly 16-minute,  multi-part suite of progressive-rock ambition (and this, when 'prog' was still a 4-letter word). Not only is it the most adventurous song on the album, surprisingly, it's the only one that feels honest—even genuinely moving.

The first half of the song is nihilistically snarky, arguing the ultimate futility of progress: trying to save the world (or even yourself) will only make matters worse. Later though, the same lyrics are twisted into something more existential and desperately pleading—all the more poignant because of what preceded it.

Musically, Change starts as a sort of adult contemporary fare, but shifts gears through everything from hard-rock to acoustic psychedlia and symphonics with multi-part harmony vocals. There's a (slightly over-long) skit in the midsection where banal cocktail chatter slowly morphs into monkey squalls, all over a light string quartet. The near-a-cappella bridge back into the song is beautifully worded and rendered, slowly building up to close on a crescendo.

For an entire album, Elfman & Co. tried to swim with the grunge tide and it was pretty easy to tell they were drowning. Only when they swam in their own direction did they succeed. Which isn't to say they simply played to their old strengths. Change is unlike anything in their catalog. Even if it fits the album it's on, unfortunately the change was still too little, too late.