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I liked “Summer Girls” fine, because the onetime Lyte Funky Ones were pop-40 Beantown hoodies who creamed over the Beastie Boys and Larry Bird, and hey, me too. I stumbled over this worship of white men who excelled in black men’s games—a classic Bostonian disease, more troubling than Abercrombie & Fitch product placement—and moved on, humming. Mostly, I liked the song because it was endearingly awkward, lacking both the fancy Swedish chord changes and competent grammar of LFO’s cousins in Transcon’s boyband empire. In short, I liked it despite feeling somewhat superior to it. No, wait. I liked “Summer Girls” because I felt superior to it. And I think you did too, even if you are a 12-year-old girl in reality, as I am only in my dreams and pen name.
I don’t suddenly suspect Richard Cronin, who by the way at 27 is too old to be going by the moniker “Rich Nice,” is a genius. But his and his two pals’ new record does convince me that they’ve been measured against the wrong company. Seven acts LFO resemble more than BSB or ‘N Sync: Depeche Mode, Mötley Crüe, My Fellow Astronauts, Oasis, Geri Halliwell, Nerf Herder, and the Offspring. They aren’t as good as any of these acts except maybe Depeche Mode, but imagine this is a kind of thought experiment.
As with Depeche Mode, no one is really sure who does what: The trio get hundreds of thank-yous in the liner notes but not a single music credit except Rich as co-songwriter on every track. And you have to wonder how many people know Rich is not in fact the lead singer. Indeed, LFO might be more like the Crüe, which is a Nikki Sixx solo project except Mr. Sixx dipped a finger into the wind and decided to be a metal band. If Rich or Nikki had decided just this summer to be a rock star, they mighta gone singer-songwriter.
Except singer-songwriters tend to write like they sound and vice versa. Like My Fellow Astronauts, a fab if unknown indie band, Rich doesn’t always know his own heart. Songs that want to be sloppily immediate raveups are polished within an inch of their lives, and perfectionism sometimes pushes passion to the side. The title track of LFO’s new Life Is Good should be all bitching and twitching until it sounds real wild, idiosyncratic, and personal, and it could be a landmark. Instead it gleams anonymously like a government building in Columbia, Maryland. A cameo by MOP, the most gripping thug-hop act going, barely ripples the glassy surface.
But it’s not the anonymity, it’s the startling unoriginality that knocks one backward. A tale of personal woe must end, “It’s like that and that’s the way it is.” If a bridge is needed, “Engine Engine Number 9, on the Metro Transit Line” is always a good choice. One gets the feeling that there’s a brief toasting cliché not because it goes anywhere—it doesn’t—but because Rich has in fact heard songs with toasting in them. Even the la-la-las are lifted from Cypress Hill. The chorus of pleaser “28 Days” asks, “What would Jack and Diane do?” I dunno; would they name the girlfriend in the song Sharona for absolutely no reason? It’s at this moment one realizes Mr. Nice doesn’t nick phrases because he thinks it’s cool, pomo, hip-hoppy, or frisson-o-matic. He just doesn’t know that you’re supposed to make up your own stuff. No one ever told him. Rich Cronin, meet Noel Gallagher.
But finally the track that convinces me to rethink LFO is “Every Other Time.” All Disney guitars and Mmmboppy echo-scratches, it’s a beautiful dreamy love song: “Sometimes we swim around like two dolphins in the ocean of our hearts.” This is harder than you think, so they must rilly be in love. Except she’s kinda, well, vicious, and she gets worse by the second. It’s like the boyfriend in Nerf Herder’s “Sorry,” sweetly apologizing for missing you and wanting to kiss you and screwing your sister, except here the lyte funky boyfriend is on the forgiving end of the stick. He knows she loves him even though “last night she did a donut on my lawn and then drove off with one finger in the air.” Plus there’s “that time we broke up before the prom and you told everyone I was gay.”
“Sorry” collapses into absurdity, in usual Nerf Herder fashion. “Every Other Time” is more knowing about love, in a punkily self-abusive way: “But I take you back and you kick me down because”—wait for it, all you KC and the Sunshine Band fans—”that’s the way, uh-huh uh-huh, I like it.” This is not a sentiment you will hear from ‘N Sync. Just like Dexter Holland in the Offspring’s “Self-Esteem,” Rich Cronin is dweeb enough to admit a good fuck will keep him around forever: “Keep it up homegirl, just don’t quit, you know the way you scream—it’s the ultimate.” And at this moment, I do not feel superior to this song. Whoever’s singing, you can hear him realizing that singing might not do the trick right here (especially if you’re not very good at it, as Geri Halliwell recently deduced on her yowling semipunk single “Scream If You Wanna Go Faster”—co-written by the same guy, my new favorite B-list chart technician, Rick Nowels). And you can almost hear the take where everyone in the studio got real real gone for a change and the three lovely lads actually screamed, actually understood they could mean what they said in the messiest, rockin’est, personalest way—before Clive Davis stepped in, and cooler heads prevailed.