Although I try to live by the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover (especially when it comes to something as subjective as a music review), I was prepared to dislike Mars Electric the moment I opened the cover booklet for their album, Beautiful Something.
It’s the band photo that did it. Four guys straight out of the Hot Topics catalog. Looks for sale at your local mall. No less than three of them are in vinyl pants with too-hip-to-be-comfortable boots. Shiny ones, too. Each wears a standard chain necklace, and the serious look on their faces says one thing: “We’re bored/ serious/ angry/ disaffected artists, man.”
The whole CD booklet screams commercialism. Mars Electric has their very own logo character, their own chiseled-cheekboned front man, and enough cuteness to make them imminently marketable to the TRL crowd. If there were a formula for alterna-pop-rock boy bands, I’d think that Mars Electric fit the bill.
But, again, this bias certainly has little to do with their music. I’m sure that plenty of bands shooting for success have sacrificed some sense of individuality to record company image consultants. Stand here, pose that way, let the make-up people touch you up, etc., etc. So maybe it’s not their fault that they look so fake.
And on closer look there are things to admire here. This band is from Birmingham, Alabama, not L.A., and that’s a part of the country where Hot Topics clothing will still garner a look of fear from the body public. Despite the obvious desire to be the next Lit, Splender, or some similar radio-friendly band, they’re not bad musicians. And besides, is there really anything wrong with pop-rock?
Musically I was struck by how much Beautiful Something reminded me of a watery version of the Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience. If you took away the southwestern feel of the Blossoms and replaced it with an affinity for Britpop, you’d come pretty close to the Mars Electric sound. Is it unique? No. Is it indie? No. Is it listenable? Absolutely. Mars Electric would be a perfect inclusion for my dream compilation project, “Screw Emo, This Is Radio!”
Lyrically, the band is not complex or deep, but the songs are delivered with enough emotive sincerity that it doesn’t matter if most of the tracks are between 10 and 12 lines long. There are actually a few songs here that I enjoyed as much for their simplicity of delivery as anything else. “Another Day (On Top of the World),” with its orchestration and careeningly falsetto chorus, had me thinking I’d heard the song already as an Oasis or Travis outtake. “Your Light,” although repetitious, is a pretty enough song to make the radio cut. Then again, so are “Sleep” and “Feels Like June.” In fact, this album feels like a handful of tracks that are each vying to be the radio single. Only “I Give Up,” “Inside,” and “Lucid” seem to break from the standard musical vein of the rest of the album in a minor effort to show that these guys can actually rock if they want to.
It’s not a bad disc, it simply is what it is, a radio-friendly album by a radio-friendly band. And in the world of pop, that’s okay. If you like Lit or Splender or any of the other Top 40 pop-rock bands, you’ll enjoy Beautiful Something. My word of advice for the people at Portrait/Capitol: put “Feels Like June” on the next teen comedy movie soundtrack or an episode of Buffy and rake in the dollar bills.