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Eight of the 10 singles below prominently feature guitars: an all-time record! But not a “trend,” OK?
The Goo Goo Dolls “Broadway”
Either the best Bryan Adams hit (acne-scarred throat!) since “Summer of ’69” or the best Bon Jovi hit (Catholic cowboys!) since “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and the chord changes from John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town” and the young man sitting in the old man’s bar from the Iron City Houserockers’ “Young Man’s Bar” and “Old Man Bar” don’t hurt either. A song about drinking and aging, but one that chunkily provides something the Goo Goos’ alcoholic idols, the Replacements, were never much good at: namely, a beat. Plus, like Sebastian Bach letting science go too far in Jekyll & Hyde, it’s on Broadway—where the neon lights shine, the lamb lies down, and you hope you don’t go home alone tonight.
Love as Laughter “Looks Like the City’s Broken”/”Hall and Oates Have Disappeared”
The first side is about driving around looking for a parking space, giving up, then heading back home—which presumably beats spending an eternity in the city, letting the carbon and monoxide choke your thoughts away. “Hall and Oates” sounds more like the Stones (in their early- ’70s muffled period) via Pavement (in their lifelong muffled period)—which is to say a very small version of the Stones—than like “Rich Girl” or “Maneater.” And actually, the “Satisfaction” references on these former-Beck-crony-led lo-fi upstarts’ 1998 No. 1 USA album were more satisfying. Gets to chugging as it progresses, but it’d be better if it directly addressed how Joltin’ John and Daryl have left and gone away, hey hey hey, and everybody’s high on consolation.
The Chubbies “When I Was Your Girlfriend”/”Fox on the Run”
Ah, the ’80s: one girl disguised as two or three, hitching take-a-breath-before-singing Go-Go’s melodies to Joan Jett powerchords to an almost-Prince song title. Could’ve used a real producer, but what the heck. “When I was your girlfriend/You were the only one/You didn’t believe me then and you won’t believe me now.” Don’t know if I believe her, either, but I’ll trust that she yearns for his wicked grin and “whole damn body.” Flip the vinyl, though, and you learn that despite his pretty face, the rest of him is out of place. (He looked all right before!) “Fox on the Run”—on the (high) heels of Pat Benatar’s “No You Don’t,” the Donnas’ “Wig-Wam Bam,” and Girlschool’s, er, “Fox on the Run”—further proves that girls tend to cover songs by the Sweet better than boys. “You talk about just every band/But the names you drop are secondhand/I’ve heard it all before.” He was no great loss anyway.
Les Savy Fav (Rome Written Upside Down)
(Southern EP, www.southern.net)
Sometimes talking about just every band can be fun, though—like a trivia contest. So here goes: Dismemberment Plan jazz changes hark back through off-kilter 1988 Brit unfunk stuff—Age of Chance, the Membranes—then to Naked Raygun and Big Black in 1985 Chicago. “Post-emo,” somebody will probably call it, by wound-tight (outside?) Providence guys who act like grad students even if they aren’t. The vocals and guitars hold a competition to determine which can be more jagged-toothed and mechanized; long-windedly declaimed sloganeering verbiage adds up to zilch. But one hiccuping moment connects rockabilly like the Fall would do it to ha-ha-ha’s out of Minor Threat’s statement of defeat “Look Back and Laugh.” And the guitar guy is a star, gloriously evoking pinpoint Philip Glass loopage, downtrodden Joy Division blues, and finally the Gang of Four’s Andy Gill, spewing cattle disease everywhere.
MC Paul Barman “How Hard Is That?”/”Housemate Troubles”
On the subject of unhealthy spewage: The cover depicts a fluffy white teddy bear pooping out a nutty chocolate bar, in slow motion. The A side—which samples arias à la Malcolm McLaren in the background—appears to start out as a letter to the overimpressed press (who’ve “got academic and smart confused,” or is that underground rappers?), but it doesn’t stay there. It’s also an answer to David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” through the eyes of Biggie Smalls: “I love it when you call me Paul Barman.” Plus “I don’t recycle tripe/Like Michael Stipe,” plus “I sleep in cow shits in Auschwitz,” plus Etch-A-Sketches. Paul’s flow is less about hipping and hopping than graphing quadratic equations, but who’s complaining? Side B opens like a dance-step-instruction record and waxes verbose about, like, splitting the rent with a jerk, sharing the premises with your nemesis, “a bigger A-hole than I’m considered by my label.” If Paul wanted to watch football, he’d go live with his dad.
Art Alexakis, who recently testified against deadbeat dads on Capitol Hill, retains his title as the poet laureate of postgrunge parenting; his new single is the latest chapter of a story he’s told better than anybody for the past five years. The music is archetypal Everclear—beefing up Tom Petty’s prettiest jangle, ebb, flow, and buildup with Nirvana’s restlessly drummed sense of urgency—and Art drawls through the words of a little boy, caught in the middle of a D-I-V-O-R-C-E, who’s been told his life’s better than ever now, but who’d rather stay at school when the bell rings than come home. Misses the Star Wars poster on his bedroom wall, and his parents not fighting so much it makes him cuss and scream and otherwise act out like the real Slim Shady (crossed with Marcus in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, maybe): “Somedays I hate everything.” Sad and true, and the album-of-the-year candidate it comes from ends with yet another divorced-dad song, so the story’s not over yet. If you’re formerly married with children yourself, your eyes will well up.
Monster Magnet “Silver Future”
“Hey! No! Don’t let go!” the whole band chants semi-Ramones-like. “We all need a daddy!” Isn’t it great how concerned today’s hard rockers are with the plight of the young? Just like “House of Pain” by Faster Pussycat! Except, with Jerseyites Monster Magnet, they might actually mean “daddy” in the Springsteen “hey little girl is your daddy home” sense, since the rest of the song seems to be another of those extended-by-brown-acid take-me-home-baby-and-I’ll-show-you-visions-you-never-imagined pickup lines these stoners are so seductive at. The drums rumble boom-boom-BAP!, boom-boom-BAP!, and the space-age grind is silver and futuristic: probably the closest Hawkwind have ever come to having a radio hit in the U.S.
Speaking of Lemmy (who was in Hawkwind): This shows up on an alternately symphonic-and-gutpunched EP called Everything Louder Than Everything Else, and wasn’t that the name of a live Motörhead album? Appropriate, since “Stompbox” is the rare techno record even more Motörheaded than “Firestarter” by the Prodigy. Nagging Mike D-style nasal squeak tops a riff-buzz that, when circling downward, kinda recalls the Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun.” Hard to tell whether the inarticulately blathered hook-chants are actually stupid or just a cheap holiday in other people’s misery; best I can translate is “I’m the ill destructa and flight combusta, Motörhead is thickuh from kruh-mike conducta!” Then again, I used to imagine Night Ranger were saying “Motörhead” in their Boogie Nights classic “Sister Christian,” too. So caveat emptor.
Artful Dodger UK “Re-rewind”
“Two-step,” this kinda techno is said to be called; it’s supposed to mix house and pop r&b, though (correct me if I’m wrong) didn’t house music already have r&b in it? And isn’t two-stepping what Shania Twain fans do?? Anyway, I assume the “UK” in their name is due to the ’70s powerpop group Artful Dodger (who are said to have rocked as hard live as the Dolls), which maybe makes these guys electronica’s answer to the English Beat. Tap-dancey skittering to kris-kross your legs to real fast, but with flesh-and-blood reggae in it that drum’n’bass is usually too tasteful to more than merely imply. Cash registers and robotic silverware drawers get cutely clanged around too, under Fatboy Slim-gone-new-jack-swing vocals. And, going “out to all the DJs” (who probably don’t deserve it), one of those prim, overserious Brixton monotones from an MC commanding some unnamed “selector” to “re-rewind” over and over again. Which makes this record somewhat reminiscent of that old joke about how “Pete and Re-pete went to a lake. Pete fell in, who was left?” (Try it on your friends!)
The Clientele “6 a.m. Morningside”
Is that title as re-redundant as Sun Ra’s name (which means “Sun Sun God”), or what? A morning from a Bogart movie, in a country where they turned back time. Are all songs with times-of-the-day in the title touching, or am I just too lazy to think of exceptions? The music on this seven-inch sounds like its lemonade-yellow vinyl looks: refreshing, enchanted, fragile. Not to mention less vague than your average Belle and Sebastian, if more vague than your average Auteurs. Put it on the end of a mix tape, and watch someone fall in love with you.