Carson Daly could stroll unnoticed down any sidewalk in MTV-free Canada, so it figures a band that seems created in his image assembled itself in Vancouver, lacking all afflictions of prefab sprout. SoulDecision have already outpaced other would-be new wavers-cum-rank TRL-ers BBMak and Nine Days, and in their second hit, “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy,” frontman Trevor Guthrie rails against the plastic people of the universe wasting his time, but he ain’t too petulant to beg. Its video depicts the trio using feeble tactics like fake mustaches seemingly inspired by the biker from the Village People to fake out rabid stalkers.
The pervading influence on the group’s No One Does It Better, though, is Wham! And if George Michael’s last stab at pop pastry, “Fastlove,” was a doughnut, then “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy” supplants Michael’s coquettish cream with doughy standoffishness. It must be a close call to Teen People cover boy Carson’s own outlook—why else would he let Jennifer Love Hewitt run off with that space cadet Rich from LFO, then pledge devotion to the girl playing Melody in the Josie and the Pussycats movie?
Like all loyal Canadians, soulDecision are more about fence-sitting than face-sitting. In their previous single, “Faded,” despite the Brad Pitt-ish Guthrie’s frisky determination to make moves, a rent-a-rapper named Thrust intercepts the group’s Night at the Roxbury swagger with a drenched-down echo of the Notorious B.I.G. rap from 112’s “Only You.” This not only explains why the likes of Young M.C. and Rob Base view the Great White North as a safe haven for comebacks, it reveals that no matter how lecherous they aspire to be, soulDecision are sympathetic figures. Pushing (if not past) 30, they’re coming to grips with complacent masculinity after running dry of adolescent urges, thus shedding light on what elusive big-brother boy- band figures like Kevin Backstreet or Chris ‘N Sync feel behind their vacantly forlorn stares.
For soulDecision, coming of age in the pre-tween era means pasty British grins from 1983-84 rather than later Teddy Riley textures turned their cranks. But just as Wham! made a putative claim to black American influence by covering the Miracles, the Isley Brothers, and Was (Not Was), sD show their own roots by sampling the Pet Shop Boys’ “We All Feel Better in the Dark” as bedding for a track too vapid to make even Neil Tennant squeal. And George Michael was subverting the Wham! image from the start by releasing goopy singles under his own name. Frankly, if soulDecision had been molded by outside Svengalis, their libidos would have benefited from more ambiguity.
More boastful of their manipulation—and, in turn, less reliant on recycled ideas—are TRL heartthrobs Evan and Jaron Lowenstein, who give top credit to executive producer T-Bone Burnett. Burnett’s mass- market track record—revolving around albums by his wife, former Christian pop singer Sam Phillips—has been spotty, but now he’s scored with these Orthodox Jew twin brothers. “Crazy for This Girl” leads doleful cello accompaniment into a neurotic self-analysis about being smitten by an oblivious yenta who can drown out traffic with her speaking voice, and culminates in a piano denouement that sounds like Evan and Jaron sprinting back to her.
What Wham! are to soulDecision, Jackson Browne—minus anti-Cold War sentiments, El Salvador, and Daryl Hannah—is to Evan and Jaron. Their self-titled CD is literally the sound of lawyers in love, alluringly original enough not to alarm the copyright kind. Sure, the twin siblings from Atlanta hark back to an era when Hooters connoted accordions rather than chicken wings. But even after their false start in 1998 in Jimmy Buffett’s stable, E&J provide the ideal antidote to five-guys-named-Nick fatigue with an album that accelerates toward a swell froth. The Lowenstein twins have transcended the eternal teen idol stigma felt by Frankie-and-Fabian crooners, a pandemic that prompted Rick Nelson to write “Garden Party.” Never mind the music made by Rick’s own twin sons—after all, Evan and Jaron have way more sensible manes.
Plus, they offer high hopes and even higher cheekbones, along with the kind of self-effacement Jakob Dylan is no longer qualified to fake (at least Adam Duritz stopped trying so hard). A plaintive reminder of our dire need to refill the ark of sensitive-male songwriters—particularly ones that aren’t trying to reincarnate Nick Drake or Tim (or Jeff) Buckley—even if it’s accomplished two by two. Most refreshing about Evan and Jaron compared to the tsunami of boy-band aestheticians is how, in the rollicking “Done Hangin’ on Maybe,” the pair expressly confess to being emotionally impaired unless alcohol is helping them out. Presumably, only after downing four cups of wine at their Passover seder could they have shown you the shape of their heart.