For some records to provide a good listen they simply need to be set within the proper context. If one hears Barcelona’s Zero-One-Infinity and seeks substantive, dynamic work or any sort of profundity, he or she will most certainly be disappointed. However, realizing that Barcelona seems entirely content to fashion a record from their triple loves: the ‘80s (“Studio Hair Gel”, “1980-1990” and well just about everything they’ve ever released), computers (“I Have the Password to Your Shell Account”) and soccer (“Kasey Keller”), Zero-One-Infinity should leave the listener gratified as well.
Just as on their debut Simon Basic, the Washington D.C. foursome—like many of us—seem slightly perturbed to have been just a bit too young for the heart of the bubblegum eighties. While we witnessed “Video Killed the Radio Star”, the big hair, John Hughes’ canon, and Martha Quinn, we didn’t truly live in the glamour of the era like the teens we saw on TV. So, you can’t entirely blame Barcelona for their retro kitschy fetishism.
Moreover, the criticisms are easier to allay because, as unlike Britain’s Bis, Barcelona intersperses some quirky, effervescent pop with their ‘80s idolatry. First track, “Studio Hair Gel”, is both well-composed and riotously funny. Wavering keyboards, owing much to Gary Numan and the aforementioned Buggles, link up with Jennifer Carr’s campy, but candy-like vocal. The combination of Carr’s slightly whiney but charming pitch and her ability to reference Robert Smith, Howard Jones, Casio, and vests (no doubt of the Marty McFly variety) in less than three-minutes makes for an endearing pop song.
While the synthesizers and guitars (The Rentals, Cornershop anyone?) work well on “Bugs”, Jason Korzen’s similarly whiney vocal lacks Carr’s appeal which can only go so far in making up for the dripping kitsch. Yet, when the two team-up on “Paging System Operator” the call-and-answer vocals and tales of AOL-profile hijinx make for, erm… a bonus track (My God, people really did say “bonus” in the ‘80s didn’t they?).
And within that context, Zero-One-Infinity works so well, far from weighty, but damn fun. My favorite songs on the record succeed both musically and in comedic value. “I Have the Password to Your Shell Account” alone is almost reason enough to buy the album. Korzen is far more suited to the abundance of “ba ba bas” than he is to taking the lead, as Carr buoyantly warbles on about trying to crack a crush’s password. If the lines “I tried your birthday / I tried your mom’s first name / Who’s that girl from Camp Lejune / Sends you letters every afternoon / Rather not have her around / Had to bring her server down” don’t make you smile, you certainly don’t deserve the wholesome happiness of such silly futro-retro recollections.
So as a genre-bending, soul-saving slice of art, Zero-One-Infinity fails miserably. But as hooky retro pastiche, it is a great success. Carr’s singing always tickles the right spot and even Korzen’s vocals prove far more amiable on songs like “Haunted by the Ghost of Patty” and “Kasey Keller” (an ode to the goal keeper’s play during the Americans’ stunning win over Brazil in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup). So in this jaded new millennium Barcelona is clearly capable of a kind of pick-me-up not seen since the days of Jolt! Cola and 7-Up Gold and for that they should be cheered.