For their first proper album, Hunx and His Punx, now Punkettes, transform into a girl group (led by a gay boy) but it's still trashy fun.
Continuing a recent trend in album sequencing, Too Young to Be in Love opens with its best song ,“Lovers Lane”. It may not be so innovative -- a campy girl group throwback with a twist, sung by a boy about another boy -- but that doesn’t take away the greatness of this song. First off, Seth Bogart, hairdresser and trash rock impresario (aka Hunx, also in Gravy Train!!!!), and his new band of girls (re-baptized Punkettes) really nail the genre and the production (courtesy of Ivan Julian from the Voidoids). The song is lush and full, with a wall of sound made up mostly of vocals. The best part of the song, its climax, is the round of voices singing “I wanna go to Lovers Lane”, kicked off by the deep and serious voice of Shannon Shaw (from Shannon and the Clams).
But the strength of this song sows the seeds of the remaining album’s disappointment. Bogart has a nasal, pop punk voice, which works well in this genre. The girls have beautiful full voices. Their interplay is dynamic sometimes, but at others the disparity shifts the focus onto the thinness of the songwriting. Maybe the main problem is that where “Lovers Lane” left no space unfilled by voice, the rest of the songs have lots of spare parts: a throwaway Johnny Thunders guitar solo, a drum interlude, and so on. Too much space and your attention wanders. In the end, the album doesn’t really recreate the girl group sound except on the first track; the rest has that trashy camp sound the New York Dolls purveyed, though a bit thinner.
On songs like “The Curse of Being Young”, the two voices are so disparate that Shaw starts to steal the show -- but the richness of her voice actually ruins the song. The good thing about Hunx and his Punx is that it’s fun and funny. But on songs like “If You’re Not Here (I Don’t Know Where You Are)”, Bogart plays up the cutesiness too much and the soul-wrenching wails of Shaw singing “I guess I’m all alone” suddenly plunges the song into waters too deep.
The gay perspective does make this album refreshing, since it brings the rock vocabulary of love into a new light. All the feelings produced by “oldies but goodies” add up to a tame vision of an era that doesn’t include the realities of the world. Hunx and His Punx create a nice past for young and innocent boys who love other boys. Bogart infuses the perspective of the unlucky girl in love whose mama always made suggestions about how to deal with bad boys with a different meaning.
But from the collection with the nice double entendre title, Gay Singles, to this first proper album, Hunx gives up the more sexual subject matter and trashier production for more earnest love songs and more professional sound. It turns out that when Bogart sings about being too young, it just isn’t as compelling as when he is telling a boy that he’s retarded for not liking rock ‘n' roll. Bogart’s organ is now absent (and that you can take with a double meaning as well). Though he contributed keyboards to Gravy Train!!!!, there aren’t many songs with keys on this album; and on the cover of the new album, we see his leather-jacketed chest turned rather than the more provocative cover of Gay Singles with his leopard print underwear and bulge in our faces.
The comparison came to mind of Sonny and the Sunsets (another lead and his backup doing throwback music), but Hunx is certainly better. Sonny tries to be too clever and ends up being too earnest in his reproduction. Hunx is more fun. The difference between them is the difference between camp and twee: camp is parody for which nothing is sacred and twee puts on an ironic veneer to protect its holiness.
The thing is that this kind of music is best presented in single form, not full albums -- that was the idea behind Gay Singles. So, here we have an album of okay material backing up a really wonderful single. There are a couple other standout tracks, like “Tonite Tonite” and “Blow Me Away” (apparently not about a blow job, but the more serious topic of Bogart’s father’s suicide), where Bogart takes on most of the singing and the girls chorus leaves him more room. The concept is wonderful -- a girl group with a gay man leading them -- but it works best when the song can back it up.