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BRAINS (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Brains (Mercury) 1980
Electronic Eden (Mercury) 1981
Dancing Under Streetlights EP (Landslide) 1982

The Brains' story is typical of many independent bands who signed to not-so-swift big labels. Led by lanky Tom Gray, this Atlanta-based quartet first garnered widespread attention with a striking homemade single, "Money Changes Everything." The Brains subsequently recorded two LPs for Mercury, but neither sold a speck. Following a divorce by mutual consent, the group returned, poorer and wiser, to the independent label scene.

On both albums, producer Steve Lillywhite concocts a thick, heavy sound that subjugates Gray's synthesizers and Rick Price's aggressive guitars to the tunes themselves. And for good reason: Gray's songs are tart accounts of love and confusion perfectly suited to his dry, sardonic voice. The Brains offer a rougher and less glib variant of the Cars' ironic sensibility, which is probably why they never achieved widespread popularity. Gray and crew unsettle rather than divert.

The Brains includes a re-recording of the cynical "Money Changes Everything" and "Gold Dust Kids," a pithy, unsentimental portrait of decadence. Electronic Eden features the bitter romanticism of "Heart in the Street," covered (badly) by Manfred Mann and "Collision," a humorously tasteless look at a brain-damaged car-crash survivor.

The four-song EP is more of the same intense longing and hidden passion. If the Brains sound a bit weary, chalk it up to the record biz blues. Dancing Under Streetlights isn't the best starting point, but it's a worthy continuation. The Brains have since disbanded. (As an undoubtedly lucrative footnote, Cyndi Lauper covered "Money Changes Everything" on her first LP.)

[Jon Young]