Tween-Pop Suppressed!

Five-Girl Armies and Finnish Martians Fall Through the Cracks

Wow, it must have been back around the third straight August week of hearing the year's best pop/rock single ("That's What Girls Do" by debut act No Secrets) climb up the Sunday- night Top 20 underground countdown (for kids, tweens, babysitters, and uncles only, dig) that I started to drift into some nice rocking fuzz-guitar 1969 time-line daydreams: "Da dadada da da! Da dadada da da! Da dadada dadada da!" Which can only mean "Race With the Devil," Jack ( = Adrian Gurvitz and his one-hit U.K. band Gun). Ten seconds after that I'm flashing back to "Butter Queen," from 1971, by Three-Man Army ( = Adrian Gurvitz) (I'll save ya the lookup: Third of a Lifetime, #244 of 500 metal albums in Stairway to Hell).

Ha ha, stop the reflection and get to the connection, I can hear you saying. Well, OK . . . It turns out that back in spring 2000, Carly Lewis of Los Angeles, then age 14, had a vision one morning, not unlike hundreds of girls around the country (black or white, per Beyoncé's or Britney's telepathic commands: "You want to . . . be . . . like . . . me"). So Carly told Dad that she really really really wanted to have a singing group. Dad was Adrian Gurvitz.

Appropriate trade ads were placed, two girls were recruited (Angel Faith, age 12, and Erin Tanner, age 14), each of whom brought in a fellow singer-dancer (Jessica Fried, age 13, and Jade Ryusaki, age 12) by Y2K's close. Who needs Orlando when you can make the band right in Dad's own practice studio? (It seems that years after Three-Man Army joined Bang and Sir Lord Baltimore in the early-'70s metal scrap heap, Dad Gurvitz did production work for the likes of Mya, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, and yup, Eddie Money.)

Children of Abba Tik N' Tak
photo: Courtesy Universal Music
Children of Abba Tik N' Tak

Unlike, say, the stillborn debut album by white O-girls PYT, who cut one fabulous pop single ("Something More Beautiful") in 1999, then disappeared into a sea of grooveless wannabe r&b-itis, No Secrets (Jive) is a keeper—quite agile, and produced and written by an endless army of collaborators and co-collaborators. So it's hard to say where thumbs-up credit should be assigned for the 90% solid songs (mostly all on the next level down from the great debut single written by Nina Ossoff and Richie Supa—yep, the Aerosmith "Chip Away the Stone" R-Supa!).

The songs skip nimbly between group-vocal-chorus poppy and tweener-hip-hop, thanks largely to the poppy/funky crosstalk of the beats (many mini-distillations of a slightly updated Max Martin sound on the rhythm tracks, an impressive feat. . . . Just ask Bon Jovi if Max's work on "It's My Life" was a career juicer). I'll take a neutral stance on No Secrets' "Kids in America" from the big-screen hit Jimmy Neutron soundtrack—it's somewhere between the third- and 53rd-best cover of that venerable rock classic ever. (Though speaking of kiddie toons, "Oh Aaron" by the A-Man back in the ancient days of 2001 featured No Secrets as backup yodelers.)

Hey, just noticed there's a very interesting distaff party line on this album on, via former Creem staffer-domo Jaan Uhelszki, no less: "These five supremely confident young women have none of the coyness or the unrelenting earnestness usually found in teen pop. Instead, they have a genius for dynamics and off-beat rhythms, and a wicked sense of humor that elevates their songs of love and female empowerment into playful, provocative gems." (Male-sex translation: Producers laid down good beats, while hired songwriters delivered "I'm stronger now" lyrics as requested.)

Thing is, the No Secrets single of the year I'm totally loving was actually a faux-simultaneous cover song, à la Cher vs. the Byrds doing "All I Really Want to Do" in 1965. Earlier this year, "That's What Girls Do" saw its initial spring release as the single/video for the near terrific debut album Beyond Pink, (Edel/BAB Music), by NYC four-piece rock band (as opposed to vocal/dance group) RubyBlue, and the album seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth coincident with Edel America/Edel Entertainment's hazy in or out of business status.

The act's sort of an early Go-Go's-type semi-primitive outfit, and they're definitely playing on the album, 'cause the rhythm section's pretty stiff (and hence heavily "produced"). Also on the iffy side, the lead vocals of bassist Alexis Krauss are mostly just OK—let's say, better than That Dog or the M2M girls, but a halfcourt short of Belinda Carlisle, Kay Hanley, Helen Love, or Hoku.

There's some terrific songs, though. "Run Away" and "Through the Rain" rock as hard as anything Gina Schock ever pounded on, and "What Are We in It For" has a hook that keeps popping into my head entire days after last hearing it. Set-opener "That's What Girls Do" is of course identical to the hit version that, er, lifted RubyBlue's entire arrangement. (Production/recording credit for the whole album goes to semi-famed Eurodance producers the Berman Brothers, who in my record rack alone get props for great tracks/remixes for Amber, She Moves, Real McCoy, Baha Men, Jakaranda, and even Hanson). After three great toploaded songs (above), there's a full handful of extremely catchy mid/up-tempo cuts, plus one perfectly snappy Katrina and the Waves "Walking on Sunshine" homage, "I'm Gonna Make You Mine." On the negative tally-sheet side, I count only two duff ballads. Overall, swell.

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