Teetering between campy fun and just plain bad, Baby Teeth offer a confusing and ultimately frustrating platter of head-scratching rump-shakers.
Picture these headlines: "Baby Teeth Rock the (insert club name here) Hard", "Baby Teeth Get No Sore Reactions", "There's No Loosening of Baby Teeth from the Charts". All of these would suit the lazy rock critic and frighten the uninitiated, scaring a throng of individuals picturing the teeth of small children being rocked hard. At first glance of the liner notes, the band Baby Teeth appears to be a silly dance-band knock off, more Electric Six than Earth, Wind & Fire. Their front man has wild, curly hair. They're wearing matching suits with ruffled shirts and bow ties. They're even positioned in front of a wedding cake with glasses of booze, giving them the aura of a wedding band on their ten-minute break. Hell, the lead singer and songwriter's name is even Pearly Sweets, for God's sake.
The Chicago trio is close to being a joke and not quite as close to being a revolution in rock music, but they sure can make you dance every once and a while. If they polished their R&B sound and focused on their songwriting, they might just have everyone wishing they'd been married in the 1970s.
The celebration really gets started with "Celebrity Wedding", the second track. The witty verses lead perfectly into a disco chorus and keyboard solo, and the harmonized backing vocals and melodic bass lines are reminiscent of another early three-piece: Ben Folds Five. Sweets' lyrics here showcase verbal dexterity, and I wish that later lapses in lyrical content would prove to be in-jokes, but I'm not so sure. Look at these opening lines: "Sedition's easy baby / Like the forefathers who discovered America / Just like any man who's made you hysterical / Just like the books you read". Unfortunately, the band peaks, both lyrically and musically, only six minutes into the record.
The third track kills the party. The phrase "loving strokes" (it also happens to be the title) is repeated about fifty times in the song. Then Sweets gives us this gem: "When it comes to ass I wanna get my fill / But if I have to share with strokes I will". What the hell? It's an average song with perplexing and silly lyrics. So why should I be listening? And I would never share my ass with strokes, no matter what strokes said or did.
"Cool Month of June" uses dissonance to heighten tension and briefly saves the band from turning into an outright farce. The sounds work beautifully, surprising the ears, until the song resolves into a clichéd "Now you're all alone" refrain. The use of bells on the bridge also creates an incredible diversion from the silliness. But silliness eventually takes over again, giving me a sense that the frilly shirts might not be donned ironically. "Mandy" rhymes its namesake with dandy, randy, brandy, and candy, all within the span of a minute. Plus, Manilow's already got that market covered. "Dreams" is a rehash prog-rock ballad; parts of it are very interesting, but overall the song is bloated and cheesy. "Rock the Boat" is frustrating in the same way. The rhythm shifts in the verses unexpectedly and is quite welcome, but the line "Shaking up is hard to do / Harder than making toast" sums up the band's problem. Making toast is difficult? Is it supposed to be funny? Is it supposed to be a pun? Is it just lazy writing? I don't know, and if I'm expected to enjoy the music, I should.
Sweets' vocals are another aspect of the CD that don't differ from the artwork. He sounds like a loser cousin fake-crooning away on a Karaoke machine after his smarter, older cousin marries the head cheerleader. His manufactured vibrato seems unnecessary, especially in comparison to the sweet backing vocals. Though the self-assurance does pay off with the shouts near the conclusion of "End of Actress".
If Baby Teeth wants to take a bite (ha!) out of the vintage rock market, they need to let their listeners know how they're supposed to be regarded. Come across as a joke, and the public will be more than willing to treat them as a joke. In the meantime, P. Sweets should spend more time writing fully crafted songs and giving some "loving strokes" to his lyrics.