Rheostatics released their debut album, the satirically titled Greatest Hits (XR-87002 X Records), in 1987 in a jangly, alternative rock style. The band immediately became known for its eccentric, Canadian-oriented lyrics, such as the subject matter of the songs "Canadian Dream" (referencing Vancouver) and "The Ballad of Wendel Clark, Parts I and II" (about the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey star). The band's second album, Melville (1991, N41Y0004 Intrepid/Capitol), demonstrated a considerable growth of the band's interest in the experimental and art rock areas of alternative rock, including "Record Body Count" and further Canadian themes and references in such songs as "Northern Wish;" "Saskatchewan;" "Horses;" "When Winter Comes;" "Chanson des Ruelles" (in French, about being unconcerned about success in the US); and the first of two versions of Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 classic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
Rheostatics' most musically cohesive album was Whale Music (1992, N21S/N41Y0011 Intrepid/Capitol), loosely inspired by Paul Quarrington's novel of that name (concerning a Brian Wilson-like demented rock star). The music was stylistically and structurally assured and the songwriting, performances, and production values complex, such as on "California Dreamline" and "Dope Fiends and Boozehounds."
Limited Mainstream Success
Although influential, Rheostatics never achieved continuing mainstream success. This was largely due to the band's combinations of musical styles that, for many people, are irreconcilable: eg, art rock, techno-pop, R&B, punk rock, country music, and arena rock. However, the band was signed to the major label Sire Records 1993-5, for which it recorded music for a film based on Quarrington's novel. Music from the Motion Picture Whale Music contains "Claire," a Top 40 hit in Canada and winner of a Genie award for best original song.
Rheostatics' 1994 studio album, Introducing Happiness (CDW 45670 Sire), folded the band's eclectic, arty eccentricities together with mainstream pop elements, including "Claire" and a genre-blending version of Jane Siberry's 1985 "One More Colour." The album included fairly obscure Canadian references within some of the more musically extreme moments.
In 1994, Dave Clark was replaced by Don Kerr. After the band was dropped by Sire Records, it pursued its experimental inclinations, Canadian opportunities and lyrical subject matter to an even greater extent. This included the mainly instrumental Music Inspired by the Group of 7 (1996, GSMC 006 DROG), commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada. Rheostatics' late-1990s' work included The Blue Hysteria (1996, CARD 1039 Cargo), with "Bad Time to be Poor," an indie rock indictment of Ontario's Mike Harris Conservative government; and opening for a tour by the Tragically Hip. 1997's Double Live (DROG 041) comprised a two-CD document of Rheostatics' recent tour and other live performances. The Nightlines Sessions (1997, DROG 055) was from a live broadcast of the last show of CBC Radio's Nightlines, and 1999's The Story of Harmelodia (810030003 Perimeter) was a children's album/CD storybook (story by Bidini, art by Tielli, narration by Janet Morassutti).
Rheostatics' final two albums were Night of the Shooting Star (2001, P232 50964-2 Perimeter) and 2067 (2004, TND 327 True North). 2005 also saw the release of two sets of archival live performances The Whale Music Concert, 1992 and Calling Out the Chords, Vol. 1 (both Zunior). Although one of Rheostatics' most frequent venues was Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, the band played its final live show (its largest as a headliner) at Massey Hall 30 Mar 2007. CBC Radio 2's Canada Live aired the show 7 Apr and 6 Dec 2007, and Zunior released the Rheostatics' tribute album The Secret Sessions. In addition to Sire and Zunior, the band released at least one album on each of the following labels: Green Sprouts Music Club; Intrepid; Capitol; Cargo; DROG (Dave's Records of Guelph); Universal; Perimeter; and True North.
Author Durrell Bowman
Doyle, John. "Rheostatics defy pop conventions," Globe and Mail, 1 Jan 1991
Bidini, Dave. On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock (Toronto 1998)
Rayner, Ben. "Rheostatics' swan song," Toronto Star, 29 Mar 2007
"Rheostatics." AllMusic site. Accessed 16 Sep 2008
Links to Other Sites
Check out the official website for the eclectic rock group Rheostatics for band bios, music videos, and more. With Martin Tielli (guitar), Tim Vesely (bass), Dave Bidini (guitar) and Michael Phillip-Wojewoda (drums.)
View a selection of music videos and clips from live shows featuring the multi-talented rock band Rheostatics.
The allmusic.com website for critically acclaimed Canadian band the Rheostatics.
Rheostatics' swan song
This review of the Rheostatics' recording career focuses on their enduring impact on Canada's indie music scene. From the thestar.com website.