I wanted to rate this album higher. I really did. From the very get-go, the entire package is utterly charming – from the awesome band name (I don’t know why, but the Its! is a name that positively bounces) to the awesome exclamation marks within the band name (this is how exclamation marks should be used. Pay attention, Panic! at the Disco) to the feel-good story of two musicians tired of playing in going-nowhere bands, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the Its!
Popping in the CD showed me the love was justified. Staring at me were 17 (!) tracks. So what could I do? Just let them play. Soak in the whirlwind. And for the next 50 minutes, comparisons of every sort floated through my mind. The La’s – with a punkier sound! The Libertines – if they got themselves off dope! Hell, London Calling, with its huge number of tightly crafted, quick pop songs! These guys were the next garage sensation. I could feel it. I was going to drop it on all my friends: I’d discovered the rebirth of the Strokes as a nicer, poppier, nicotine-less incarnation.
Then a funny thing happened: I discovered that even as I continuously looped the CD, feeding in on its addictive sound, I couldn’t differentiate between the tracks. Essentially, I was raving to my friends about an album where I couldn’t even match track to melody. Perhaps – and this was a leap for me to take – the tracks were simply forgettable.
That’s not an admission I wanted to make, of course. Everyone in the press wants to hit upon the next big thing. And the Its! come pretty damn close. They’re already on their way up, having played a series of high-profile Chicago gigs. Their debut is loaded chock full of tight, two-to-three-minute basic garage rock songs that show they’ve mastered the garage-pop songwriting structure; they take all that is tight and catchy about the Strokes’ sound and divorce it from the drugs, smoke, and sex that garage rock has carried since the Velvet Underground.
As one can imagine, the result is deliriously energetic and – for lack of a better term – bouncy. But the failing here is that it’s not a formula for transcendence, either. The Its! write hooks like they have a bank account full of them; they just have a problem varying those hooks. Maciej (they never indicate their last names) write lyrics that are witty and funny in the moment, and has an endearingly tuneless energy, but lack any sort of edge. Their bassist has perfect timing and a wicked solo in “You’re Not My Girlfriend” (the high point of the album), but basslines end up being recycled. None of this detracts from the immediate pleasure of listening to the album, of course, but it does create problems when you’re trying to designate an album as “great”.
That’s not to say there are no great songs. “Song for the Dead” is a poignant look at pointless suicides, with them proclaiming, “Even though I didn’t know you girl / I still miss you” to an incongruously happy yet irresistible beat. “I Just Wanna” evokes the best of Joe Strummer when Maciej scathingly screams, “Jokers to my left / clowns to my right / well I am not so easily amused!” at stoner friends. And “Why Don’t You Leave” incorporates “Sweater Song”-style dialogue to hilarious effect. But for every one of these highlights, there’re two songs that sound like “Take a #”, which consist of little more than a bouncy beat and a forgettable chorus.
Transcendent or no, there’s no denying this is a massively entertaining album to listen to, even if it won’t change your life or even stick with you afterwards. Maybe I exaggerated a bit when I told my friends I’d found the next garage superstars, but I doubt they mind having to listen to such a whoppingly fun CD.
// Notes from the Road
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