Mark Bacino: Million Dollar Milkshake

[1 May 2003]

By Will Harris

Is happy really the new sad? Mark Bacino apparently thinks so.

There is an anecdote in Mark Bacino‘s official biography, perhaps an apocryphal one, which claims that he was conceived to the strains of the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You”. The suggestion that this tale is perhaps apocryphal occurs not because there’s any real reason to think that Bacino’s mother (for it is she who revealed this nugget of information to him) is lying, but, rather, simply because it’s one of those stories that’s just waaaaaaay too good to be true. Still, once upon a long ago, when this writer dutifully reviewed Bacino’s full-length debut (appropriately entitled Pop Job . . . the Long Player!) for another publication, the Partridge Family were indeed one of the points of reference used to describe the happy-go-lucky bubblegum fun of the disc . . . so, y’know, maybe she isn’t yanking his crank . . . erm, so to speak.

When Pop Job emerged, Rolling Stone wrote, “Steeped in the sparkly, head-bobbing melodicism of classic mid-‘60s pop, (Mark Bacino) has yet to release a song that hits the three-minute mark. Twice on Milkshake, however, Bacino passes that vaunted mark. Not by much, mind you. It’s only by a single second on “Sunny Day”, and it’s hard to describe “This Little Girl” as a real epic when, as the longest song on the album, it’s still only 3:19.

The Million Dollar Milkshake is, as suggested by its title, sugary sweet and slides down smoothly. (It also apparently inspires alliteration in music journalists.)

Things start off rather oddly, however, with a snippet of a song (all of 25 seconds) entitled “Bubblegum Factory” (which bears no resemblance to the Redd Kross song of the same name). There’s not much to the track, other than to say, “Bubblegum factory / That’s where I want to be / Bubblegum factory / Let’s go, you and me / That’s where I wanna be / Bubblegum factory, yeah”. It’s a bit of a strange way to get things rolling, since the album isn’t actually entitled Bubblegum Factory, but if the goal is to set the stage for Bacino’s music, it serves its purpose handily.

“Want You Around”, the first full track, makes it clear that The Million Dollar Milkshake isn’t going to be too much of an evolution from Pop Job, but the muted horns in the chorus, straight out of Bacharach 101, are certainly a nice, new touch; they pop up again on “How About Always”. The spirit of Burt more seriously infects “Milkshake Bossanova (Love Theme From The Million Dollar Milkshake)”, a track which, despite its brevity at a minute and forty-three seconds, is the perfect length: it never drags on, and, yet, by the time it ends, you wish there were more songs like it.

The general structure and melodies of the songs on Milkshake tend to echo Pop Job to such a degree that, after the first listen, one might think that the two albums were recorded back to back in one lengthy recording session. Closer inspection, however, shows that Bacino has expanded his musical palate considerably, with various tracks including a veritable orchestra: trumpet, flugel horn, cello, flute, piano (a toy piano here, an electric piano there), castanets, pedal steel guitar, and, to be sure, many others here and there.

Bacino has said in the past that, “if people don’t walk away humming the melody after the first listen, then I haven’t done my job right.” No worries there. “Want You Around” is one of, oh, about 11 potential hit singles . . . well, in another era, at least. “All I Want” has a bit of a country feel to it, “How About Always” is one of the purest pop nuggets you’ll hear this year, and “Sunny Day” is the perfect song to end your next compilation tape/mix disc with.

Just as the album fades to a close at the end of “Walking on Air”, what emerges from the speakers is the very audible sound of someone sucking up the last sip of, one presumes, a decidedly-pricey milkshake. After such an enjoyable treat as this album, there’s little point in avoiding one last temptation, so go ahead and say what you’re thinking: The Million Dollar Milkshake is good to the last drop.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bacinomark-million2/