Spring Music Preview: The Teenagers and the Porn/Pop Split

The Teenagers have dirty mouths and an accent

Paris-via-London trio the Teenagers remind me of the Strokes (that mute, expressionless guitar sound) and sometimes of Pulp (those songs about young, asymmetrical sex), but not at all of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, the Harlem doo-woppers whose "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" went all the way to No. 6 in 1956. Still, fitting that it took half a century and a band with the same name to answer Lymon's question. Why do fools fall in love? How could they not, when she's from California, "a cheerleader," "a virgin," and "really tan"?

More than likely you've now heard about "Homecoming," the travelogue that opens Reality Check (out March 18 from XL), the debut by the '08 incarnation of the Teenagers. "Last week, I flew to San Diego to see my aunt," begins the track. "On day one, I met her hot step-daughter." At the Mercury Lounge, where the Teenagers made their New York debut in January, the band recruited two women from the audience to duet with them on "Homecoming"'s chorus. "I fucked my American cunt," stammered the Teenagers' frontman, Quentin Delafon, looking at the ceiling. The locals responded blankly: "I loved my English romance."

For aspiring perverts, though, the Teenagers are featherweight. They sing about the "Streets of Paris," but they grew up in the city's suburbs, "riding bikes and talking loud," miles from the right kind of action. The band's leering name nods at a kind of naïveté, which sometimes shows through. "Starlett Johansson," the MySpace gag people took so seriously that it landed them a record contract, was a hapless, Wikipedia-cribbed marriage proposal to the actress. "You whisper in horses' ears/I always found it exciting," muttered Delafon, confused, trying to work himself up.

Les dudes: Teenagers Michael Szpiner, Quentin Delafon, and Dorian Dumon
BILLA
Les dudes: Teenagers Michael Szpiner, Quentin Delafon, and Dorian Dumon

Presumably, it took long, hard social-networking hours to turn the Teenagers from postgrads whiling away time on MySpace into San Diego–conquering pimps, and the record they ended up producing has probably the most online sensibility of any album, ever. Like the Internet itself, Reality Check makes a lot of noise about pop culture and then suddenly dissolves, in the strangest places, into pornography. The band's song structures—a barely audible talking murmur in the verse, automated percussion, a bullet-point chorus—play strictly for online consumption. Live, the lyrics are virtually unintelligible. And in concert, the drums are played by an actual living female—a species otherwise the subject of relentless Reality Check scorn—a contradiction they deal with by not acknowledging her as a member of the band, either onstage or in the liner notes.

It gets harder to remember, but that porno/pop split—not to mention its twin suggestions of envy and anxiety—is also the fundamental condition of nearly any given real-life male teenager. So credit the Teenagers for voicing the (oftentimes exhilarating) longing subtexts actual teenagers can't quite articulate. In "Homecoming," one senses the inchoate terror adolescents are too afraid to express. Girlfriends nag them ("Love No"), make them watch Dirty Dancing ("French Kiss"). Boredom makes them lonely: "It's 2 a.m. and it's Tuesday, taking pictures in the streets." The Teenagers are perpetually out too late, on the wrong night, doing nothing in particular.

Been there? No sooner do the Teenagers offer up a kind of real-world, human-to-human solidarity than they yank it away. "If you need a band, 'cause you want to dance/Or you're missing your friend," Delafon smirks on "Feeling Better," "Well we don't care/Just buy our T-shirts." The lesson is clear: Never connect, unless at T1-speed or faster.

So, while I don't think the Teenagers are smart enough to be parodying the promo-and-spit-swapping nature of the music/social-networking/porno biz online, the band may be the Internet's purest music-related product yet. On "Love No," Delafon parrots a girlfriend as she's cataloging complaints, running down his friends, his nutritional habits, and his disgusting bathroom; he parties too much, he watches Showgirls over and over again. "You spend so much time on your computer," she tells him. But without it, the Teenagers wouldn't even exist.

Spring Music Picks

The Pogues
March 15-17

On The Wire, dead Baltimore cops are laid out to the strains of the Pogues' "Body of an American." In the real world, living men and women of all professions lay themselves out at whatever St. Patrick's Day venue Shane MacGowan's outfit happens to be playing. An inordinately early Easter this year will chase St. Pat to the Ides of March, but rely on the Pogues to treat each and every day of this three-night stand as an important drinking holiday. Roseland, 6:30 p.m., roselandballroom.com

Pitbull
March 21

Daffy Miami-Cuban-American rapper Pitbull called his last album The Boatlift and claims on his MySpace page to be "Too Latin for hip-hop, too hip-hop for Latins." That he has a cause at all makes him more political than 90 percent of his peers. But this will be no Rage Against the Machine show: A full set is sure to include "Shake," "Go Girl," and "Culo," in addition to "Ya Se Acabo," his Castro-baiting celebration of Fidel's handoff to Raúl. Fillmore at Irving Plaza, 8 p.m., irvingplaza.com

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