A few of my favorite records came out in 1997. Pavement’s fourth “masterpiece” Brighten the Corners was released that year. Ditto with Radiohead’s critically acclaimed OK Computer and Foo Fighters’ The Colour and the Shape. In the same year, Teeth returned with Bum Squad EP and a healthier Glenn Jacinto. Then the Eraserheads, fresh from their first US gig, surprised us with Bananatype, a five-track prelude to their most perfectly imperfect fifth album – Sticker Happy – which also came out that year.
Sticker Happy is one helluva record; Eraserheads’ unheralded masterpiece – if there should be one. Not their best, but definitely their craziest; and one with the best damn cover art. It’s a cacophony of zany things; the Eraserheads both old and new, guitar pyrotechnics, pop songs, techno, sex, booze and rock & roll – a strange brew that spins violently and destroys everything along the way.
Looking back now, Sticker Happy may have been a bit too much for most fans to fully appreciate at the time. It was their least accessible album up to that point. It also marks the time when the band took away some of the things, fans love about their songs. No more silly love songs about Toyang, Shirley or Ligaya. Instead, we got “Kaliwete”, a song about a two-timing hottie and the band’s flippant tribute to Rico J. Instead of songs about things we could easily relate to, they gave us “Downtown” and “Balikbayan Box”.
Sticker Happy kicks things off with cartoon theme-like “Prologue”, and things go bonkers from there on. “Futuristic” is anything but. But just like “Kaliwete”, it’s built on an icky riff and sets the tone of the album; their modus operandi – in-jokes, guitars, loosely tied lyrics, melodies that stick and more guitars. Way before Hopia, Mani, Popcorn, Rico J. Puno – the mustachioed grandfather of OPM – gets the homage he rightfully deserves, via innuendos, catchy choruses, and spoken words.
At the core of Side E, are songs that best exemplify the less popular side of Eraserheads, the deeper cuts in their catalog. Lyrically dark, witty and self-referential while loops, samples and drum machines meet interlacing guitars. There is “Maalalahanin”, where Raymund Marasigan lays down the grungiest pile of noise he could muster, on top of electronic and acoustic drums. Then, Ely Buendia takes a few bong hits, and ponders on the meaning of life and caressing the future on the brilliant dark comedy “Ha Ha Ha”. Then there’s “Balikbayan Box”, a song that perfectly captures the woes of living away from home and the excitement of going back. Discord and noise has been a hit and miss in Eheads’ past albums (i.e., Monovirus from Fruitcake, Bato and Insomya from Circus); but here, we have the Luis Bunuel film-inspired “Andalusian Dog”, one of their successful attempts in marrying melody with psychedelic overtones and noise.
Not Side E is more unwieldy, and opens with “Downtown”, Marasigan’s electro-dance-funk about his escapades in downtown LA, which is also the grandfather of all Squid9 songs. The lyrics on “Kananete”, part two of Buendia’s Hand Trilogy, are nonsensical at worst, but the lumbering guitars and driving basslines more than makes up for it. Buendia and Marcus Adoro then get rid of their fuzz boxes and let Buddy Zabala take over the drums, on a song about disbelief and love. It’s a well needed rest; a few minutes of lull. Then things get dark, drunk (“Spoliarium”), heavy and funky again (“Ambi Dextrose”), before they go for an early closing, with a sober sorry song – the piano ballad “Para Sa Masa”.
Sticker Happy isn’t perfect; almost, yes. I could do without “Everything They Say” and “Bogchi Hokbu” could have been a minute shorter. On some days, “Ambi Dextrose” is fine. On some days, it is like The Matrix Reloaded or Return of the Jedi – the weakest part of a trilogy. But these are minimal trade-offs, considering the extent to which the band tried to expand their sound on this album. Plus, the album cover is just fucking unreal – white skies, a red balloon, green grass, mountains and a beautiful piano undressed in stickers.