[7 August 2006]
Ah, the whimsy of youth. The innocence, ignorance and invincibility that allows us to leap before we look, speak before we think: it’s a gift that’s almost wasted on those who are too young to really appreciate it. Detroit-born and bred musician Christian (aka Snowhite) has been making the most of his years, channeling his energy into music projects of all kinds since the tender age of 14. While most other kids his age were entranced by television screens and video games, he was writing and recording an extensive collection of songs: a feat so impressive that it inspired his mother to start cold-calling A&R reps around the country to check out her son’s work. The debut album features 12 from the hundreds of songs that Christian had laid down already, writing and recording each instrument, mixing and self-producing each track in his basement. Love Arcade came together as a band after four other musicians were recruited to create a vehicle to bring the songs on the road. While the spirit of youth is the overwhelmingly obvious quality of the record, for better and for worse, the result is still something more of an achievement than a nineteen-year-old should be producing.
Christian must love Weezer, been brought up on Cheap Trick and the Flaming Lips; you can hear it all in these songs. Beyond these nods to ‘80s and ‘90s pop rock, there’s a nostalgic charm to the feel of this record. The songs conjure up memories of afternoons spent jamming in your parents’ basement, or watching the cool kids from the block gather together all their instruments to make noise in someone’s garage. Listening to Love Arcade’s debut is a glimpse back to those times, but after a few songs it really just starts to feel like I’m trapped watching my little brother jamming with his friends. And by the end, I’m glad that the babysitting gig is a quick one, since the album is less than 45 minutes long.
The songs are reflective of everything there is to love about being young: they’re quirky, simple and fun. However, they’re also scattered, impulsive and, at times, feel almost pestering, like a little kid relentlessly tugging at your sleeve for attention. Relentlessly, like the choruses on songs like “Passenger”, with the nagging hook: “All night in my bed / She is in my head / I can’t stop her / I’m just a passenger.” The songwriting wavers between basic to beyond simple, trite to cliché; that’s also an accurate reflection of the lingering impression left by the record overall.
Love Arcade’s stab at what a big radio single sounds like kicks off the record: “Keep It Coming” has the big, wailing guitar riffs, the layered vocals and the catchy hook that together create a practically perfect attempt at bubblegum pop. The rest of the album feels like continuing attempts to cover every base possible, in the hopes of getting a hit. With the upbeat head-bobber of the opening track, quirky ballads like “Moses”, raspy rock attempts about taking a girl’s “Candy” and even a stab at a dance track for the kids with “Can’t Stop”, the album is all over the place. This diversity between tracks makes it easy to forget the fact that Christian is the sole musician on this record: it’s multiple pages out of the musical sketchbook of a scatter-brained teenager, more than an true introduction to a new artist. Trying out a number of different styles and techniques to find his footing is that natural evolution of youth at work. Unfortunately all this artistic dabbling takes away from any sense of album cohesiveness, and makes an entire listening a tad painful.
I’m clearly past the prime of the key post-Britney audience here, and I suppose that those kids may not be so concerned with incomplete songs and a jagged record as much as they are with choruses that they can blast out of their car stereos. Ah, that whimsy of youth. Still, there’s a reason why we don’t know what Beck sounded like when he was a teenager, or what a Weezer song was like before they reached legal age: young musicians need an arena to experiment, to discover and explore their talents certainly. This is all necessary preparation, but these are not necessarily the moments that need to be captured on record and released.