It's a traditional predicament for music fans. You head out on a Saturday night to see a some live music at your local dingy old rock club/former bowling alley. The second band of the night takes the stage; you're a bit skeptical because they are too pretty to be musicians, but it's Friday and you're out. So you take a sip of beer, cross your arms and wait for the Damn Personals to impress you.
Mike Gill, on drums, is adequate and knows his limits. J. Vincent "Vinny" Zavadoski on bass is exactly what a bass player should be a rock, cool, solid. Ken "Kenneth" Cook, on vox and 2nd guitar, spends too much time looking good, but he hits his notes. But Anthony "Monkey Boy" Rossomando on the lead axe is the one who grabs my attention. He climbs on top of speakers, sweats like a sprinkler, and windmills like Pete Townshend after too much time online. This is a great band, you think. I've got to get the album.
So a few weeks later you buy the album then you hit play.
"Fucking in NYC" starts off the album and sounds like a well-cocktail of Cheap Trick, the MC5 and way too much .38 Special. The next four songs yawn off the CD, lurching from "Coast to Coast," as Cook uses his weak, tinny voice to establish that he is the leader of the band, to "Standing Still in the USA," an old boring cock-of-the-walk pop song, stumbling over to "Back at You," which resembles a demo that Boston's Tom Scholz wouldn't piss on. The sorry batch of "songs" bottoms out with "Models and Airlines," a pathetic, plodding attempt to combine the worst parts of '70s era Bowie-glam and Boston garage rock (additionally, the band has the audacity to include an organ behind a tired chorus that just won't end).
Next on the chopping block is "Amphetamine Rifles," a clichéd rock 'n' roll song that is everything teenagers hope life to be: girls, drinking, drugs, love, guns, Friday and Saturday nights. The tempo shifts aren't dramatic enough to move my dog, let alone my ear. Cook tries to get tough, but he's just slapping and whining a little harder and then they roll out the overwrought organ AGAIN! I'm racking my pea brain, desperately trying to remember how many beers I had that Friday night.
Just as I'm on the edge of a three-pots-of-coffee, Lewis Black diabetic rant, Cook decides to let the band run around a bit on "Sleeping on the Floors UTD." A unique, catchy, chorus segues into an old-time classic-rock trick: quiet vocals and solo-guitar strumming that dramatically shifts into a big wall of sound. It works. But it's an aberration.
Next on the hit list "Accidental Death and Dismemberment," a slug of a song that aborts a promising guitar and drum back-and-forth. The chorus repeats over and over: "We do it again." But why?
I start to consider if I blacked out that Friday night and dreamt that I'd heard a great live band.
The band rallies a bit with "Saturday," the best song on the album. Mike and Vinny get to show off their rhythm skills. Next comes "Better Living," the obligatory drug song, something Evan Dando would have written in rehab if he'd been the football team captain in prep school.
Next to last is "Tomorrow, God Willing," a stand-out song that the band just simply plays, a bit Buffalo Tom-ish. The album finally comes to a long-awaited close with the unlistenable "Fruit Fly."
Throughout the album, Cook, listed as the main songwriter on every song, refuses to loosen the choke collar he's got on the band. Too bad. The moments where the band broke free and really made some memorable music in that bar are not repeated here. And then again, sometimes a good bar band is just a good bar band.