Enthusiasm is terribly underrated. With bands preening themselves for appearances on magazines covers, the music is often given second billing, usually assigned a wide-sweeping genre term (garage, electroclash, etc.) as a launching pad for a carefully choreographed fashion shoot. The Three 4 Tens look like no one you’d ever see on the cover of Spin magazine. Long-haired and not particularly handsome (sorry, guys), they were probably the kids who spent much of their high school years in their bedrooms with their headphones on, carefully studying their favorite records. Now, you’d probably find them rooting through the dusty bins of the local used record store, searching out vinyl copies of now obscure garage bands. Taking Northern Liberties, the group’s second full length album, though not always consistent, is an energetic and loving homage to ‘60s psychedelia and pop that succeeds largely because of the palpable reverence the Three 4 Ten’s clearly have for their influences.
Ripping through 12 tracks in 50 minutes, the Three 4 Tens are so good you’d swear you must have heard these songs somewhere before. “I’ll Feel Better Today” is classic. All the key ingredients are present—a standard rhythm guitar progression, multiple lead vocals, guitar freak outs—yet it all sounds unbelievably fresh. Somewhere Mike Myers is listening to “A Stem Too Far”, and wondering where to place this slinky rocker in his next Austin Powers movie. “Been Done Trying” is a delicate acoustic number that finds the band delivering a tripped-out take on the folk-pop of Simon & Garfunkel. Lifting the vocal melody of the Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin’”, “Ride in Style (The Fish Song)” is a deliciously revved-up rocker. The glorious “Whore House and Suicide” is the quintessential Dandy Warhols song they have yet to write.
Taking Northern Liberties
US: 26 Aug 2003
UK: 20 Oct 2003
However, when their obvious love of ‘60s era pop and rock turns into an ironic take, things fall apart. The honky tonkin’ “Jack the Tripper” (har har) and the overly long “My Stoned Ass” (which I’m sure works much better in concert) are unnecessary indulgences, as is the untitled, hidden track album closer, a completely out of place and particularly uninspiring foray into glitch-pop.
But these are minor grievances, as there is much to admire in Taking Northern Liberties. The Three 4 Tens have obviously done their homework and the results are fantastic. I’d like to say that they reinvent psychedelic garage rock, but they don’t. Instead, they play it with such aplomb and obvious adoration that you can almost see the giddy smiles that must have been on their faces in the recording studio.
The Three 4 Tens are so precise in their musical style that they probably won’t find a huge audience—and that’s not a bad thing. Taking Northern Liberties is the kind of record that makes the old cranks at record shops nod approvingly. “Now these boys know what real rock ‘n’ roll is. None of that rap stuff that the kids are listening to nowadays”, they say confidently to themselves. And for everyone else, any lover of the Nuggets box sets or who still throws the Doors, Steppenwolf, and Iron Butterfly on the stereo for a good time, needs to head down to their local, ornery, record store clerk and pick this up.