Greetings from parochial southern California, where relentless local cheerleading brings you Tsar, who (their CD sticker rants) exhibit “all the qualities of what will rescue rock’n’roll.” So unhelpful! While the big brag is deeply woven into the warp and woof of the American genome, there are still transgressions that ache for “the duals” to the back of the head.
But it would take the corrosive cynic, indeed, to oblige. Here’s why: When Tsar’s Jeff Whalen sings, “Let’s jam the jukebox, babe,” he sounds more like the kid who had analgesic balm shoveled into his jock by football bullies than one of “The Teen Wizards” set to carry the girl off in a drag race to Rock City. But damned if the song doesn’t succeed, thanks to a more than halfway decent crashing riff. As twisty hand-clap twaddle, “Silver Shifter” works fine, too—though beats me what they’re on about.
“Wear a cape!” to look more rock’n’roll, Tsar recommended in the local press. They practice what they preach: Whalen sports a shawl made of Old Glory. And their rebellion is powerpop a mommy would love. (This is not so duff, mommies having to be more twisted now than they were 20 years ago.)
Tsar are occasionally found wanting in the testosterone department, but they compensate by Tsar‘s 36-minute length. See them do the Freddy during “Kathy Fong Is the Bomb.” Cut to the winsome girl in the back of the auditorium suddenly figuring out the song is about her! The chorus swells for that “Ordinary Gurl.” Subplot: The lead guitarist wants to “Disappear.” Adam’s apple bobbing, he drinks red wine and worries his secret love thinks he likes—ulp!—guys. It’s The Sorrows of Young Werther lite, framed by quick, crunching guitar. Don’t exactly (blessedly) remember being such a phonus-balonus and maudlin hambone at the same juncture. But the general territory’s familiar.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 11, 2000