Congratulations! Either you stumbled upon this review by accident or you are one of precisely 17 people who still care about Marcy Playground in 2012. Harsh? Sure. However, Marcy Playground were a bit of a punchline to an alternative ‘90s joke to begin with. They only have one hit to their name—1997’s “Sex and Candy”—and, by all accounts of what I’ve read, that’s the only song of note that that the band has that’s really worth listening to. I remember reading multiple reviews of the self-titled debut album of the group that contains that song back in the day, and I distinctly recall all of them saying that “Sex and Candy” was the only song worth listening to on the record. Every review. And it would go on that, while the band released subsequent albums, “Sex and Candy”—which sounds a little like Beck if you took away the two turntables—is the only thing people remember the group by. So putting out a new Marcy Playground album in 2012 is a bit of a “who cares?” proposition. However, if only Lunch, Recess & Detention were a proper album.
It turns out that Lunch, Recess & Detention is a B-sides, rarities, new songs, bonus tracks and covers record. Which means one of two things: either this is what we call a “contractual obligation” disc that the band is putting out to sever their contract with major label Capitol Records. Or, and possibly more realistic considering that I’m not sure why Capitol Records—realizing the diminishing returns of hanging onto this three-piece—didn’t get rid of them a decade ago, band leader John Wozniak thinks so much of himself and his songwriting prowess that he believes there are actually people out there who would buy a Marcy Playground album featuring little more than his castoffs. Either way, Lunch, Recess & Detention pretty much exists for one reason and one reason only: giving people one more chance to buy “Sex and Candy” in this Internet-download age on a physical product. Yes, folks, “Sex and Candy” appears on this, a B-sides album. And, get this: not only does it appear once, but twice (!) in an wholly unnecessary and needless disco remix. Does Wozniak or the label realize the jokes they’re setting themselves up for considering plumping up “Sex and Candy” as a dance track? I mean, really.
Because my mom is harping on me to say something nice instead of putting daggers into things all the time apparently you attract bees with honey and not vinegar and everything—I’m going to come out and say that Lunch, Recess & Detention is not the entire mess that you may consider it to be. In fact, there are a few highlights and pleasurable surprises, dare I say. And, yes, one of them is “Sex and Candy”. But what Lunch, Recess & Detention does prove is that some of Marcy Playground’s more agreeable material didn’t make it to a proper record for some reason. Opener “Shapeshifter” is a bit of a rocking piece of riffage that recalls Crazy Horse at their most restrained. Which is to say that it won’t light the world afire, but it is pretty not bad. “Black Eye Sue” is a bleak piece of three-minute rockabilly, and is suitably grunge-y—if you consider the likes of Bush to meet your grunge requirements—that it hits a bit of a sweet spot. And “Bang Bang Bang”, despite being a bit of a murder ballad, lyrics-wise, is an upbeat and catchy little ditty that sounds a little like Sheryl Crow somewhere between “Everyday Is a Winding Road” and “A Change Would Do You Good”. Sprinkled throughout the album, you’ll find some delightful bon-bons such as these, making Lunch, Recess & Detention an interesting and quaint listen. It’s really not as bad as it would seem. Until ... .
Until, yes, and alas, we get to the three covers offered here. First of all, we get a completely unneeded reading of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, which—though it has been tackled by at least 1,000 times by various acts since its debut in 1967—is one of those songs that didn’t need another reinterpretation. Wozniak apparently missed the memo that went out to all musicians that stated that “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is A. Frickin’. Perfect. Song. In. Its. Original. Form. There is simply no reason for a cover of the song, which, unfortunately, Wozniak so adeptly proves here with singing that is absolutely devoid of any sort of soul whatsoever. In fact, the cover is downright laughable and almost off-key with Wozniak’s warbling. It’s just an abhorrent trainwreck of the worst kind, and would be the album’s nadir moment if it weren’t for the “Disco Superfly Remix” of “Sex and Candy”. Nearly as bad is Wozniak’s reading of Leonard Cohen’s way overly covered “Hallelujah”—it simply lacks any sort of honest emotion that somebody like Jeff Buckley brought to the song. In fact, considering that Buckley’s version is more or less considered to be the gold standard of the track, you have to wonder why Marcy Playground even bothered trying. And then there’s a version of Neil Young’s drug-ravaged anthem “The Needle and the Damage Done”. Wozniak has garnered comparisons to Young, and it does kind of work if you take the vocal similarities and put them together. Overall, I would have to say that it is not all that bad, but it isn’t exactly transcendent either. It, in fact, kinda sounds a little like some guy covering the song during open mic at your local pub, who just so happens to sound uncannily like Neil Young.
Honestly, I have to say that I’m quite taken aback at the mere existence of Lunch, Recess & Detention. If the goal was to get “Sex and Candy” into casual record store shoppers’ hands, the band or label failed miserably. Hasn’t anyone heard of iTunes? Amazon.com is selling this CD as I write this for $10.18, but buying “Sex and Candy” on iTunes will cost you a whopping 99 cents or a slightly pricier $1.29 depending on which source you wind up buying the song from. One route will just be as satisfying as buying an album with another 18 tracks that didn’t meet the cut. Which is to more or less say that despite the presence of the occasional not-too-bad song here and there, Lunch, Recess & Detention is a wholly worthless exercise that either fuels one musician’s ego or is just a write-off for a major label. But if you did already go out and buy this just to get one song you could have gotten from another source for a lot less, congratulations! You just unnecessarily padded someone else’s pockets, and unfortunately lost a little bit of ka-ching from yours.