Despite the unicorn and rainbows packaging and the publicity material harping up Cyndi Lauper and Dale Bozzio comparisons, XOXO, the debut album from Miss TK and the Revenge initially sounds exactly like Le Tigre. It may seem reductive to bring up the comparison, as if every female singer working with a mixture of freeze-dried punk rock riffs, boombox hip-hop beats, and new wave cheese is a de facto Le Tigre clone. In this situation, however, it is impossible to not make the comparisons when hearing the album’s opening tracks where Miss TK hits that same screaming-while-pouting tone Kathleen Hannah honed with Bikini Kill and perfected with Le Tigre. Perhaps it is only coincidence, as Miss TK is drawing from the same artist pool as Hannah and company, but I am tempted to put it up to a test. Take the sneering “Fake Italians Ain’t No Stallions” and play it for a Le Tigre fan and harp it up as an unreleased demo from Feminist Sweepstakes. Only the most hardcore fan will be able to call your bluff, as “Stallions” is almost a note perfect Le Tigre song, complete with its ironic reworking of the “Be Aggressive” cheerleader chant.
The first four tracks, while certainly fun enough on their own, even “Your Show” a watered down attempt at rewriting Le Tigre’s “The The Empty”, it is not enough fun to get over the complete uselessness of these tracks. If the public wants to hear mediocre Le Tigre tracks, there are enough Le Tigre EP’s and singles out there to satisfy that desire. By frontloading the four most derivative songs, XOXO does disservice to former Zero Zero keyboardist Miss TK and her attempt to revive the spirit of Jem and the Holograms. The tracks following “You Show” are a more accurate representation of the band’s aims. “Hey Baby” is a fluffy pop moment that finally shows Miss TK showing a voice of her own, and the slinky, almost funky, “Unicornacopia (I Love Nico)” succeeds in totally erasing the unconvincing punk persona of the earlier songs. “Elevator” provides pleasant memories of inoffensive mid-‘90s alternative rock, with Miss TK contributing her strongest vocal performance, showing that the Kathleen Hannah-inspired vocals of earlier tracks were mere affectation.
From the sound of the rest of the album, the rest of the Miss TK and the Revenge songbook is relatively skimpy. The later songs on XOXO consists of a series of two minutes or less sketches that have been left incomplete (one song lasting a mere nineteen seconds). The least memorable of them is actually named “Basement Demo” in an admirable show of truth-in-advertising. It is never a good sign when an album that lasts less than a half-hour is padded with filler. A four-or-five song EP would have been a better choice, giving Miss TK an opportunity to put something out on the market until she and the band had a wider range of workable material.
Miss TK and the Revenge could have a true debut album’s worth of material in them, provided they follow the successes of XOXO and not on the Le Tigre sound-a-likes and the rote, punkish electro-pop numbers. In a final show of incompetent sequencing, their best track is the very last song, rousing listener attention after a long run of dull tracks. “Sunshine, Sunshine, Where Are You?” is a summer pop anthem just waiting to happen. Better produced, catchier, and more innovative than anything else on the album,“Sunshine, Sunshine, Where Are You?” is a slightly reggae-ish pure pop song in the vein of the Tom Tom Club. Miss TK’s bouncy vocals, and the shimmering backing track, evoke the feeling of the final bus ride home that heralded the beginning of an endless summer vacation. A part of me wishes that an inspired pop producer finds this song and gives this to one of the countless vacant teen pop singers so there is actually a decent summey pop song on the Billboard charts come this July. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want anything to take away from this song, Miss TK and the Revenge’s moment of triumph after a string of missteps.