“Come to New York/Get famous,” Scott McCloud suggests in a sweet, sour, grand little tune toward the end of Failure American Style, the former Girls Against Boys singer-guitarist’s first record as Paramount Styles. In a song cycle that exposes personal emotions within what was once the very public drama of the high-stakes ’90s music business, “Come to New York” embodies the idea of the “real cool time” that Manhattan then offered buzzed-about rockers like GVSB. L.A. appears as a character as well: “Drinking makeup/Wearing champagne,” McCloud warbles in “Hollywood Tales 2”: “You would have done anything.” But the ritual of shows, ambitions, a&r powwows, and nerves described in “Drunx, Whores & Mzk People” unfolded in many American cities, over a steady succession of nights that, as McCloud puts it, aspiring pro rockers without the word “no” in their working vocabularies were “meant to enjoy,” vampires notwithstanding.
The inflamed grooves of GVSB largely abandoned, Paramount Styles instead update the tradition of minor-key brooding stretching from ’70s Lou Reed to David + David’s 1986 record Boomtown to the National. As “Alleyesareonyounowmypet” demonstrates, with its killer cadence and slippery lyrics, these are the songs of someone deeply caught by certain details, etiquettes, girls, highs. McCloud sings—or, at times, almost-sings—his tunes not with Reed’s understatement or David Baerwald’s heart or the National’s poetics, but as a committed rock stylehound, while his cool mix (aided by producer Geoff Sanoff) of strategic guitars, occasional cello, and restrained rhythms serves as a model of post-arrangement arrangement. “It’s like a style, right?” wonders McCloud at one point. On Failure American Style, it succeeds.