Generic Visions of the Future
The press release for Theo Kogan’s new musical incarnation, Theo and the Skyscrapers (name bearing a high resemblance to Ted Leo & the Pharmacists), claims how revolutionary and multi-talented Theo is. She released six albums with her former group the Lunachicks, was a model for multiple ad campaigns, released a solo album that sold a thousand copies “in the wink of an eye”, and to top it all off she acted in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, Ben Stiller’s Zoolander, and the Mark Wahlberg flick Rock Star.
While it will take an idiot to deny the supermodel beauty of Miss Kogan, it takes no more than a simple glance to see that her ambitions are greater than her actual achievements. Though she has been in Tadpole, Zoolander, and Bringing Out the Dead, she has been credited as “Woman in Bar”, “Cool Tattoo Girl”, and “Prostitute”, respectively. These aren’t exactly the juicy roles that nab you Oscars, Golden Globes, or more than six seconds of screen time. The Lunachicks have a true underground following, styling themselves as the all-female equivalent of NOFX (though, as sales reflect, why would you want the female NOFX when you can have the real NOFX?). Basically, Theo is out there, but still trying to find that breakthrough moment—that moment that will thrust her into the public consciousness.
The Skyscrapers don’t seem like the skyrocket she’s looking for.
Designed as a modern new wave punk group, their sound largely comes across as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with a keyboard, and that’s not just because of the Karen O resemblance. You can tell Kogan is shooting for that very kind of raw art-rock-punk aesthetic that the Yeahs seem to embody. Unfortunately, the fine art of imitation got lost along the way, found a cool slick sound, but sacrificed its personality in exchange. The crunchy guitar riffs of single “Broken Girl” have a yawn-inducing “been-there-seen-that” quality, the keyboards pulling the most weight by opening up the chorus into a digestible bit of pop. However, if you think that the lyrics are going to be a revelatory sampling of bohemian-punk philosophy, you have obviously checked in at the wrong tattoo parlor.
The album never is truly “bad,” but it never actually turns into anything interesting, either. A large fault of this falls to the dry but drab production style, coupled with producer Sean Pierce’s never-ending keyboard flutters. As new wave-y as the synths sound, they actually drain all the energy out of the cut-and-dry rock riffs. Not even handclaps can save opener “Doppelganger Death Disco”. Handclaps, ladies and gentlemen—handclaps!
Yet, what’s most shocking about the blandness of the album is… Theo herself. While a visually stunning centerpiece, her lyrics are confused and muddled affairs, never making any real points or dropping any zingers to speak of (even more amazing when you consider that the Lunachicks thrived on trashy and disgusting humor, even trying out “perspective” and story songs once in awhile). As a vocalist, she’s more than competent, but her singing lacks any real personality to speak of, again chaining otherwise-decent songs in the dungeons of disinterest.
On a bright note, however, is the DVD that comes included with the album, all featuring the work of photographer Rob Roth. He’s obviously seen Michel Gondry’s video for the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” a few too many times, playing around with projections of Theo played over an interesting canvas: Theo herself. This is used in the video for “Broken Girl”, the most “mainstream” of the three. The videos for “Time” and “Run Rabbit Run” are visually interesting, but nothing that will enlighten you at the end of the day. The high point proves to be, of all things, footage of a performance piece in New York featuring Theo in a white dress with projections of herself placed over her. While Theo gives a decent but overly pretentious monologue, things actually reach an intriguing apocalyptic climax—though it shouldn’t have taken a whole album and three music videos to get to what may be the best part about the whole album.
Theo’s beauty is undeniable. Her acting is competent, her tattoos very real, her musical future somewhat hazy. If she truly keeps at it—someday, somewhere—she will probably break through. For now, though, these skyscrapers are due to be demolished.