Music Wiggles room

Unlocking the nagging mysteries behind Australia's biggest export since Men At Work

The best kid-oriented pop phenomena work on two levels. They create a seemingly simple, candy-coated universe in which toddlers can comfortably immerse themselves while simultaneously offering a subversive wink to adults with flashes of subtle social commentary, all the more amusing because of the sneaky way in which they are delivered. Pee-Wee Herman, The Simpsons, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and to some degree, SpongeBob Squarepants fit into this mold.

The Wiggles are not that kind of phenomenon. They barely work on one level, and it's the level most excruciating for dedicated parents. On the scale of unbearable cutesiness, The Wiggles are Barney times four, with thick (some might say exaggerated) Australian accents to boot. Being forced to take your young one to a Wiggles concert is about as cruel as requiring a four-year-old to sit through an hour of Hannity & Colmes.

Next season's starting lineup for the Miami Heat could need a little time to jell.

A semi-musical, pseudo-comedic quartet of aspiring pre-school teachers from Down Under who joined forces in 1991, the Wiggles are monumentally famous but invisible at the same time. They've sold more than 17 million DVDs and six-million CDs, host a popular series on Playhouse Disney, and sell out sports arenas around the world. At the same time, if you're not a parent, you've probably managed to remain blissfully unaware of their existence. They're kind of like Josh Groban or Michael Bublé: mega-platinum nobodies.

In fairness, the Wiggles deliver all the right lessons. They teach kids how to make pizzas, stress the importance of family and friends, and never fail to be high-spirited and optimistic. Unfortunately, they do all this with the cheapest imaginable sight gags and the most tooth-achingly sugary routines, all of which play like forced cheerfulness to anyone over the age of three.

Dressed like rejects from a Sydney Star Trek Convention, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt, Anthony Field, and Greg Page romp around their TV world in a big red car, rubbing shoulders along the way with a prissy dinosaur named Dorothy, a hapless, disturbingly co-dependant pirate named Captain Feathersword, and an enigmatic dog named Wags. Murray and Greg are gangly, clueless geeks, while Anthony is the band's beefy voice of reason, and Jeff - the lone unmarried Wiggle - is a desperate narcoleptic whose alarming habit of nodding out in public places is fodder for the lighthearted Wiggles quiz show, Where's Jeff?. Not since Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen shared a room at the Chelsea Hotel has any popular musician found it so difficult to complete a sentence without losing consciousness.

As a musical outfit, the Wiggles play a generic brand of bouncy pop-rock, which suggests the influence of innocuous, kid-friendly British Invasion groups such as Herman and the Hermits and Freddie & The Dreamers. In fact, the choreographed high leg kicks they execute to the anthem "Get Ready to Wiggle" is a dead ringer for the leaping spaz attack of Freddie & The Dreamers' unctuous hit "Do the Freddie." Similarly, the thin, whiny vocal timbres shared by all the Wiggles put an Aussie slant on the Dreamers' frontman Freddie Garrity, one of the worst singers in the history of pop music and a man utterly convinced - against the weight of all evidence - of his own adorability.

The brassy "Zing Zing" sounds like a cousin to the Castaways' 1965 garage-rock hit "Liar Liar" while "John Bradlelum" is essentially an Australian folk version of the children's staple "This Old Man." For "Move Your Arms Like Henry," a tribute to Henry the Octopus, Cook peels off some thematic surf-rock guitar licks.

The Wiggles

3 and 6:30pm
Thur, Aug 4

SBC Center
One SBC Center
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)

The group's concerts are rapturous affairs in which appearances by Wags the Dog and Dorothy the Dinosaur sometimes elicit more pre-school squeals than the Wiggles' musical numbers. While it's doubtful that the Wiggles' diapered fan base devotes much concern for the integrity of the group's musicianship, the quartet nonetheless sees fit to debunk those nasty Milli Vanilli/Ashlee Simpson rumors whenever they pop up. On the band's website, they respond this way to a self-posed question about lip-syncing: "Greg has developed a good aerobic level of fitness which enables him to sing and dance. You will notice the LARGE amounts of sweat that is on their shirts which is a result of this effort."

Actually, you probably won't notice these nasty perspiration patches unless you plunk down the necessary cash for seats in the much-coveted Hot Potato section, which places you close enough to the arena stage to catch every inadvertent wiggle, but cost $31.35 a pop. Considering the group's penchant for playing two afternoon shows in each city, and their ability to fill venues that would overwhelm all but the biggest rock bands, you wouldn't be blamed for deciding that it's all about the benjamins for these guys.

Some adult Wiggles followers hear songs such as "Fruit Salad" ("Eat up the bananas!") and "Toot Toot Chugga Chugga Big Red Car" and wonder if these amiable high rollers are slipping some racy, sex-and-drugs fodder past their core audience, but that's probably a perverse strain of wishful thinking. After all, bored parents have to think of some way to occupy their time while sitting through "Get Ready to Wiggle."

By Gilbert Garcia


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