"Balikbayan Box Revisited" by Sir Robin Rivera

Originally posted in Circus: The Eraserheads Mailing List

Subject: [eraserheads] Balikbayan Box revisited
Date: 5/7/2008 3:02:01 A.M. Pacific Standard Time
Reply To:

I'm on another extended lunch break from work, so I have some spare time to write to you
all. One of the CDs I'm analyzing in my dissertation just happens to be "Stickerhappy". It's
the first time I've listened to it in many years, and it brought back fond memories.

I've read much about how many people have identified the early albums of the Eraserheads
as their "definitive" works, due to the style, content, and commercial success of the first
three albums. This was reinforced by the recent MYX feature that included only "Ultra...",
"Circus", and "Cutterpillow". But having produced all their albums except
"Ultraelectromagneticpop", I've always felt that their later works were just as significant as
the early ones. So allow me this opportunity to reminisce about one particular song from
"Stickerhappy" that never got the attention I felt it deserved.

Most fans will remember the euphoria that accompanied the MTV Asia viewers choice
award for "El Bimbo". But that period was also a difficult one. The band had its share of
turbulence, and were adapting to new experiences and lifestyles that came with age and
travels. From the moment I heard the demos of the songs that would be included in the
new album, I knew that change was in the air. But instead of suppressing the new contexts
that they had been thrust into, I wholeheartedly allowed them the latitude to write about
what they were going through at the time. Change is a part of growth, and I refused to
trap them in a time warp. But some things don't change. One of the things the band
remained good at until their demise was to come up with witty, amusing songs, with a
dose of melancholia to balance it off. This is exactly what I found in the song "Balikbayan

While we were already in the middle of recording what was to become "Stickerhappy", I
remember telling the band that I felt there was something missing in the album's
repertoire, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was. Then one day, the band barged into
the studio and said they had a new song that had only come together the previous day.
With all four members huddled around a table in the Tracks main recording studio,
Raimund excitedly whipped out a drum machine and laid down the basic drum track. It
wasn't programmed from start to finish, so everyone had to help push buttons of the
drum machine to go from one pattern to the next, all in "real time". Each of them then
took turns laying down bass parts on different sections of the song. If you check the
credits, all four of them played bass on that song. (A nice game for listeners would be to
guess who played which section. But don't ask me because I myself don't remember
anymore.) The next day, the rest of the band eagerly added the guitar parts. The vocals
and everything else was laid down a few days later. The performances were typical of the
band, slightly quirky and twangy, but confident. Angee Rozul's mix was spot on,
wonderfully delicate and detailed. It all came very quick, and seemingly effortless, from
the song writing to the mixing. The song turned out to be the missing piece I was looking
for, and I was elated that they had come up with it just in time for it to be included in the
album. I absolutely loved the song for its local color, understated dynamics, textured
arrangement, and bittersweet narrative.

When we submitted the album to BMG, the people in the office immediately gravitated to
it. Long before the album was released, everyone in the office was already singing "uuwi
na tayo" at the end of their workday. To this day I wonder why BMG never really promoted
it. It had some of the characteristics that fans were used to from previous albums, but was
produced and framed in a way that reflected what was the band's state of mind and field
of experience at the time. And like most of their other memorable songs, it has remained
as relevant now as it was when it was written.

I've always felt that each album was special. Unfortunately, changing fashions and
loyalties, coupled with the resulting shift in promotional and marketing strategies caused
many to overlook the band's latter works. Its only recently that I have begun to hear
people regard post-Cutterpillow songs with the same reverence as those in their earlier
albums. I hope people can revisit this song as I did, and realize that this is just the tip of
the iceberg of how substantial the EHeads material was after "El Bimbo".



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