In the words of Spinal Tap's Derek St. Hubbins, "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." For some, the stupidity may exist as a precondition before they even press play, as they contemplate the teaming of garage rock avatars the Mooney Suzuki with arch purveyors of teen-friendly pop The Matrix. What were they thinking? Incredulity aside, this recalls similar collaborations from rock's past with contrastingly happy and unhappy results Kiss's Destroyer and The Ramones' End of the Century respectively. In both cases the band as basic, stripped-down rock-'n'-roll unit had its methodology and sound challenged by the input of a name producer hitherto unconnected to its work.
Alive & Amplified falls somewhere between these two forebears: it's not the catastrophe it might have been, but neither is it a great success. And while The Matrix production team might provide a handy scapegoat by dint of reputation alone, in fact the album's shortcomings ultimately spring from the band's performance. And performance is the key word this is a very theatrical record. The title track is as much Rocky Horror as it is rock, a garishly over-driven slice of metallic gospel, the MC5 high-kicking on Broadway. It's the one real departure, sound-wise, that works, simply because the band sounds totally immersed in its new surroundings, and willing to adapt accordingly.
For much of the rest of the album it's business as usual, in a slickly produced selection of feverish rhythm-and-blues stompers with biting guitar solos. I suppose the point is that the Mooney Suzuki was always a bit Hanna-Barbera, a cartoon synthesis of various underground rock elements, but whereas the previous release, Electric Sweat, played out in reductionist monochrome, here everything's coated in lurid Technicolor and the band's natural abrasiveness has been replaced with self-consciously dumb hedonism. The lyrics, reproduced in the CD sleeve, stand out in ghastly relief on the printed page. Basically they're the age-old concerns of getting it on and, to quote Spinal Tap again, "having a good time all of the time." But under the revealing spotlight of The Matrix's buffed-up production, the likes of "Primitive Condition," "Loose n' Juicy" and "Messin' in the Dressing Room" sound simply crass rather than heroically dumb; and the big ballad, "Sometimes Somethin'," aims for a kind of testifying inarticulacy but suffers from an overload of bathos.
However, the album as a whole does have pace and brevity on its side. Its shortcomings are partially offset by its sustained energy levels and its gleeful appropriation of tawdry glamour. It is an unrelentingly plastic sound, but at its furthest limits, on the title track mentioned earlier and the eyebrow-raising "Naked Lady," the band achieves a kind of compelling meaninglessness, staring fearlessly into the void, then applying the tackiest of glitter make-up and diving right in.