[19 February 2001]
With their history, it would be easy to approach the new release from New York’s The Rosenbergs with much the same the same trepidation one regards the arrival of the hotshot rookie star to the home team. After generating tons of press and wildly inflated numbers playing teams you’ve never heard of, the kid never breaks the Mendoza line by mid-summer and by the end of the season is benched with a groin pull, never to be heard from again. So when you run across the name “The Rosenbergs”, you might remember the entire Farmclub debacle, during which the band discovered that the Internet music site’s emperor was embarrassingly unclad. Or perhaps you have heard about the band’s music being featured on some of those wretched teen soap operas before they even had a record deal. So with so much pre-release industry buzz foreplay, no one would fault you for approaching the actual record with a certain amount of wariness, having been suckered so many times before. Face it—rock and roll is littered with the corpses of next big things, and all they do is block the damn highway for the rest of us. Well, the record is here and the scouting report is in.
This is the band, the sound, and the record that you didn’t know you had been waiting for.
Fans of pop music—meaning music played by such artists as Velvet Crush, Cheap Trick and the Beach Boys, not popular music played by, well, you know, all those kids on MTV—fans of pure pop music demand crunchy guitars, soaring harmonies and catchy hooks. Well, none of those things get done much better than you’ll find on this record. Vocalist David Fagin bridges a tightrope between a sense of resigned weariness and a eager passion that is compelling and jarring at the same time, all the while sounding like a choir of one. The band’s sound, a thunderous guitar sheen atop a bulletproof rhythm section, takes those magical moments once found on Cheap Trick records—think “Surrender”—and updates them, darkens them and presents it all anew. Even more than that is the sense of adventure the band has no trouble displaying. “Secret”, a song that floats by on a Brian Wilson wave of cushy harmonies and odd instrumentation (in this case a set of ringing vibes) before ending with bassist Evan Silverman’s attempt (rather successfully) to prove that Charles Mingus did actually play on a Big Star record at one time. Or the closing cut “Overboard”, where Fagin’s voice and a single guitar start things off in proper Britpop style, before a swirling Hammond organ and swooping slide guitar remind us that here in the States we like a little musical grit, no matter how pretty the rest of the song might be.
But like the hotshot rookie who actually turns out to be able to play the game, nobody is perfect. In the Rosenbergs case, it is a simple fact of genealogy. Being children of the ‘80s, they add moments of Buggles/Gary Numan-like vocal distortion to a few cuts on the record, (you know, that flat, trebly recorded in the next room sound that opened “Video Killed the Radio Star”) not realizing that the effect it has on the record is like that which results from putting snow shoes on swimsuit model. Unnecessary. But hey, such moments are rare.
This record is so good, at moments even great, that it more than delivers on the hype that proceeded it. It’s the bands third release, but the first on a proper label—DGM, Robert Fripp’s revolutionary method of music production and marketing. With only one song—“Soaked In Polyester”, which is already a favorite of British DJ/legend John Peel—being a repeat from an earlier recording, it seems assured that The Rosenbergs will able continue to craft their unique brand of pop for awhile. Which is good news for all of us waiting for the next big thing. It’s here. Because few things are as big as that which fills our mind.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/rosenbergs-mission/