There must be an unwritten rule that great power-pop and garage bands will come out of the Jersey area until the end of time. Down-and-dirty rock and roll seems to seep out of the region on a steady-trickle basis, regardless of the musical climate around the rest of the country. Perhaps it’s the proximity to New York City, or something in the water, but whatever it is needs to be bottled, distilled, and exported.
Bastards of Melody are the garage band in question here, and from the sound of things, it’s a two-car garage with exposed insulation and a manual door that these boys call home. They’ve been compared to the Replacements, Fountains of Wayne, Cheap Trick, Weezer, and the Lemonheads, to which I’ll add Too Much Joy. There are shades of all these bands in the Bastards, and Fun Machine plays to a sound familiar to anyone even remotely interested in rock that includes the roll. Irreverent, fun, punchy, a little bit punk, their lyrics tend toward drinking songs of desire and lost love. This ain’t no emo band, though; this is straight up power pop at its most honest.
Vocalist Paul Crane has the ability to go from typical new-punk singing on songs like “Join Me” and “My Latest Obsession” to strong melodies like “Not Me”. Some songs deliver a sunny amount of wit and humor (“Joanie Don’t Be Reckless With My Heart”), while others are straight-up forlorn love songs (“Ain’t Enough Hours in the Day”). Moving from punk to country-tinged pop within the garage sound isn’t particularly new or innovative, but the Bastards of Melody also trip into blues territory on the walking-bass verses of “Fascination”, before kicking into a blistering punk speed and then slowing back down to the walking bass—all of which makes it one of the most interesting songs on the disc. “Hopin’ I Might Die Instead” moves in the blues-rock direction as well, yet evokes the Butthole Surfers with its distorted, double-recorded vocals.
If there’s one irritation on Fun Machine, it’s the song “Billy on Guitar”. Despite Cale’s vocals and generally fun lyrics, it’s really Bill Zafrios’s lead guitar that anchors the Bastards of Melody. Making the muddy, rollicking sound of punk, power-pop, and blues guitar sound good is what keeps the Bastards of Melody from seeming like every other similar band on the market. But songs about forming your band are needless self-indulgences, especially when there are 12 other perfectly listenable songs on the disc. The weakness of having to say “We’ll go far, cuz we got Billy on guitar” is a pretty big distraction from the other tracks, self-aware irony or no. Actually, the most ironic thing about this song is that it is a great guitar showcase for Zafrios, but since it gets wasted on inane lyrics, it goes from being one of the best songs on the album to one of the worst.
Still, overlooking this one misstep, the Bastards of Melody prove that power pop isn’t dead in a major way. Fun Machine is an extremely fun and likable album. If you like Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Come Down”, old Goo Goo Dolls, or if you simply miss bands like the Replacements, then check out this disc. As the Bastards promise in the pledge written out in the CD insert: satisfaction guaranteed.