The 88: Over and Over

[9 January 2006]

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Los Angeles, reject your Whiskeys and your walks of fame, your Viper Rooms and hair bands and dens of exclusivity. Dismiss those pay-to-play free-for-all shakedowns as nothing more than bad ideas and pretend power trips. Child’s play is what it is, and furthermore, there’s some honest truth in them thar Hollywood Hills.

Continue to boast of your winterless winters and infallible sunshine, for those are the undeniable elements that attract the rest of us to your magnetic pull of possibilities. Lobby for the residual side effects such geographic blessings afford. Count the 88 as a blessing worthy of your boasts.

You can sing so sweetly, Los Angeles, as a band as wide-eyed and devilish as the 88 proves. You can stomp your feet in Face to Face tantrums, catch the breeze of Jackson Browne’s reasonable heat or Warren Zevon’s surly wit, and stumble through arena-sized intersections with the platformed panache of Marc Bolan. Let the 88 show you how.

Over and Over is another collection of robust California pop songs by the L.A. quintet, a band that intimately knows the touchstones of British and American rock, not to mention one whose lead singer (Keith Slettedahl) sounds like he just stepped off the British Invasion boat. It’s a more confident album than the 88’s 2003 debut Kind of Light: Over and Over tones the muscles of its predecessor’s strengths, bolstering the band’s charm with some pliant brawn.

“All ‘Cause of You” and “Coming Home” pump up the 88’s trademark carefree bounce (on loan from the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon”, one of many points of reference coursing through the album’s bloodstream) with grit and intensity. The gleefully acidic “Nobody Cares” salts its barrelhouse romp with some “Magic Bus” percussion, while “Head Cut Off” makes instrumental nods to Radiohead and the Beatles via strangled guitar trills and piano punctuations, respectively. The record’s greatest moments are those when the pop is pushed to a white-out boiling point: “Bowls”, “Everybody Loves Me”, and “Not Enough” turn the infectious into the infected, their choruses ballooning into unrestrained pomp.

The 88’s publicity machine is firing on all cylinders now, building upon the good homegrown buzz for the band’s debut with song placements in a bevy of television shows. It’s a fairly safe bet to assume that the band will realize a respectable level of notoriety, the very kind of notoriety that L.A. is built on. For good reason, too — the 88 makes the sort of effortless, embraceable pop that can easily flatter whatever tainted image its hometown harbors. “I’ve got the West coast sunshine / But it don’t mean a thing,” Slettedahl sings on “Hide Another Mistake”. OK, we’ve got that down; now go give the rest of the world another reason to wish it lived in your neighborhood.

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