On their second full-length, the Teenage Frames make like the album title and speed through 14 tracks of blistering pop and punk. Hailing from Chicago, the band takes the pop of hometown heroes Cheap Trick and merges it with Dictators-styled New York rock ‘n’ roll. Sadly, the former plays much less of a role than the latter.
So long as the Frames are showing off their pop smarts, the album works like a charm. “Here Comes the City” is quick but quiet, with the feel of a 3 a.m. ride back from a party held earlier in the night. They slow it down on the anti-stardom rant “Automobeat” but then pick the tempo back up with the fantastic “Teenage Letdown,” which features sour lyrics that contrast a bouncy, summery beat.
All three songs are top-notch, but nowhere do the band’s pop smarts sound better than on “Living It Up,” the standout of the album. The song glides along beautifully, celebrating a seemingly lost love who, after a few verses, may not actually be gone, and then explodes at its close with some well-placed steel drums. It’s an undeniable sign that the Frames can do power-pop as well as anyone. Unfortunately for the listener, however, the libido starts raging, the volume gets cranked up and a bar rock sound that keeps the Frames from rising to the top of the pop-punk world raises its ugly head.
“Glitter Parade” unsurprisingly glams it up and goes nowhere. Rockers “Drug Party” and “Dopesville” are lyrical odes to junk that are sometimes humorous, but neither track is particularly memorable. The Frames beg for girls, parties, booze and more on cuts like “I Want to Go Out Tonight” and “Just Can’t Seem to Take It,” and all the while the band sounds like a New York Dolls or Devil Dogs knock-off.
It’s a shame the band can’t avoid empty rock ‘n’ roll that’s as soulless as bad bar rock. When they let the pop shine through, the band sounds smart and engaging. What the Teenage Frames don’t seem to realize is that without the distortion turned up, they still sound as powerful and intense as they hope to on the faster, louder numbers. One can only hope they’ll learn from their mistakes next time around and stick to the pop that they can do as well as anyone. Until then, however, the band’s output will remain unessential.