Strangers in a Strange Land: When I Mother Earth Came Back From Mars

It’s official: I Mother Earth are reuniting for a one-off show at The Sound Academy in Toronto on February March 23rd. This will be the first time IME have performed together live in  8 years. Tickets went on sale this Saturday past and were sold out within 5 hours. To fans like myself the possibilities are tantalizing: Jag has mentioned on the band’s blog that the response was surprising, as he hardly expected them to sell out so quickly. To fans like myself there’s no surprise at all, just a sense of, “Finally!” This has no doubt spurred speculation as to whether IME will reunite for another album and Jag has even gone so far as to mention that they have been working on tracks, but without serious intent.  Perhaps that will change after this show.

I Mother Earth’s commercial Achilles Heel lay in that they were in fact, too good for radio. They were the smarter, weird sister to Our Lady Peace’s pretty, more popular sister.  While Raine Maida took OLP in the direction of ever-poppier offerings (to the point, grotesquely enough, of becoming a ballad-band), I Mother Earth went further out there, getting more and more progressive with every album. This progression (if you will) begat the eventual departure of original frontman Edwin (Jag and Chris do all the writing, and Edwin wanted some creative input so they parted ways), who went on to the fast-burn world of pop-rock. The rest of the band regrouped and recruited Brian Byrne, who had sent in a demo tape, one of hundreds that the band went through in their search for a new singer.

Here’s IME in Koln, Germany. Sorry for the poor video quality, but the audio is pretty decent.

Undone, Live, Koln, Germany

IME’s best, most cohesive album was their first, Dig. It was the closest thing the band would have to a masterpiece.  The sheer audacity of assembling such a motley collection of influences in one band, let alone one album: Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Rush, King Crimson, Primus, Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction. Couple that with the brothers’ Jag and Chris’ songwriting abilities and the talent in all members of the band and you end up with something unique. Dig ranks so highly in my books that I put it beside Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Led Zeppelin’s IV on my list of Ten Albums With Which To Be Stranded On A Desert Island (don’t ask me the rest, I’m still deciding).

When Did You Get Back From Mars?

Edwin left for creative differences and for the lack of creative input; he wanted the band to start making poppier, more radio-friendly music, and the rest of the group wanted to go the other way (which they eventually did, culminating with the more metal and prog rock influenced Quicksilver Meat Dream). Edwin began a solo career that burned out within three cooly-received albums, the last two of which downright frostily; have you even heard of the not-so-ironically titled Better Days? Nor had I until I looked up his catalogue. IME, on the other hand, kept working, kept touring, and kept moving into prog rock.

0157 :H7

A quick note about this track. It’s name is that of a strain of E. Coli that is present in the digestive tracts of cattle and can be passed on as a food-borne pathogen. In fact, all of the album art for QSMD is of diseases and pathogens.

What they’re trying to say here is anyone’s guess. I think it’s something along the lines of  “Humanity will be lain low by disease”. But that’s a guess.

Edwin left after the end of the tour for Scenery and Fish. He stayed with the band for seven years, but it almost seems a footnote in the band’s history now. Brian has firmly cemented his place as the rightful frontman of IME with his electric performances, vocal style and energy. Interestingly, it almost didn’t end up that way, as his demo tape initially ended up in the trash. It wasn’t until Slik Toxik drummer Neal Busby recommended him that he got his shot. The rest, as they say, is history.

One More Astronaut, Snow Job ’97

Blue Green Orange was a departure from previous work, softer, more jam-oriented and spacier, and is generally regarded as the weakest of the albums. If given the time for a good listening, it will reward your patience with some really surprising pieces, not to mention the always stellar musicianship of all members. The lower-key When Did You Get Back From Mars was an unexpected stunner, the Radiohead-esque Cloud Pump catches you off-guard, as does the disco-funk-meets-Smashmouth tinged Blacksox (I half expected Barry White to chime in with an “Awww Babeh” at one point).

Lost My America

One of my absolute favorite tracks by IME. If you’re ever feeling down or in a bad mood, just put this track on and try to stay in a bad mood. Go ahead, try.

IME came back with their bookend effort, Quicksilver Meat Dream, a concept album, but what that concept is is a tightly-held secret of the band’s.  QSMD is the same as all the other albums in that it is nothing like any of the other albums at all. There are two moderately radio-friendly tracks on it but they both sort of stand out weirdly from the rest of the tracks, like Katy Perry at a stoner party, and are definitely toss-offs, included only to appease their label. Darker, influenced by both metal and prog rock, it’s not immediately engaging but reveals more upon repeated listenings.

I say bookend effort as this was the last album IME produced before their hiatus.

No Coma

After QSMD everyone sort of went their own ways, letting life catch up with them, while fans have been left wondering for years about the fate, if there was anything on the burner or if such a great band was to be consigned to the annals of history. Brian went west, Bruce moved to Florida and joined Blue Man Group (not a support group for depressed men), and Jag and Chris hung it up for a few years (Chris didn’t even have a drumkit for anymore!).  Everyone has always maintained the attitude that if they did get back together that it wouldn’t be for anything other than making music and being with friends. Money would be a secondary consideration (and according to Jag, even lower than that!).

The Universe In You

So does this upcoming show herald a new I Mother Earth era? I certainly hope so. The fanbase is there, and a large portion of it were just kids when IME was at the height of their popularity. They could provide enough fuel for Jag, Chris, Brian and Bruce to pull together for another album or two.  I know that I won’t be at that show on the 23rd, but if they have more, you can bet I’ll be there.

Although this time I think I’ll take Franca, if I can.

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