The Blakes: New Tattoo

Gary Glauber

The Blakes

New Tattoo

Label: self-released
US Release Date: 2003-02-22
UK Release Date: Available as import

While a certain negative stigma is attached to the label of "power pop" these days, there's no denying the widespread appeal of its sound. Play the unlabeled music for people and chances are they'll respond positively: "I love this -- who is it, where can I get it?"

Yet label that same music as "power pop" first and watch that receptive audience dwindle. For some unspeakable reason, the idea of what might comprise "power pop" is now out of favor, a marketing kiss of death. With that caveat laid out, I'm urging the Blakes to keep that "power pop" thing hush-hush, so that perhaps their wonderful music can find a larger audience.

Raised on the standards (Beatles, Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick, Queen, and the Police), New Jersey's the Blakes translate that pedigree into music that follows in the footsteps of Jellyfish and even more closely, their next generation heirs the Tories and Sugarbomb. New Tattoo is a remarkable six-song EP debut chock-full of multi-layered harmonies and chunky guitars, bass and great drums.

This talented quintet is composed entirely of New Jersey natives, many of who have come to this new entity after playing in other bands. Paul Rosevear (who wrote all of the songs here) played in a local band called Punchmonkey, Gay Elvis (Matt Butcher) was in the pop/punk entity Kid with Man Head, while Beau Burtnick was in the group Dibs. Jones and Chris (no last names given) also played in various New Jersey bands.

"Hysterical" is a great track where one sweats out whether or not an hysterical love obsession will be requited: "Late night waiting takes me to you / To you / Does she even know I'm alive / You gotta do what you think you know to be right".

The title track is another pleasant (and very Jellyfish-like) ditty, this one about a woman moving on beyond a bad relationship: "Did you hear she got a new tattoo on her heart when you left / To cover up the bruise that's starting to fade to a scar / And all that I can do is hold on and try to get over / His ink gettin' under her skin / A little pinch won't hurt a bit / Just let your head forget the places where you've been / She bit her lips, his bitter prick left a permanent line / Engraved for all time, she's changed".

In "Used", the lead vocals are a dead ringer for the Tories' Steve Bertrand (who at times was called a vocal dead ringer for Jellyfish's Andy Sturmer). This is yet another infectious harmony-driven song, all about finding comfort in misery: "And if you're feeling used, whatever, at least we had fun". "Anybody Listening" employs Chris' drumming to fine effect (again along Tories/Jellyfish lines) -- and you sense a certain coordinated magic among all the players.

"Something Good" is all about disappointment and expectations not meeting up with reality: "You're missing out on something good / You'll wake up and wish you understood that you're missing out on something good". "This December" is half a promise to say goodbye and walk away, half a scorning censure of another: "You let them take away your love / You're hiding out between the sheets / And when you smile, you're playing dumb / It's only obvious to me".

Listening to this EP, it's hard to believe these five have only been performing as a band some 6 months. Steve Evetts does a great job producing and mixing these tracks. You'll hear bits of the Raspberries, some McCartney now and again, as well as those obvious references mentioned above. For those bemoaning the demise of the Tories, the record-label desertion of Sugarbomb, and the long-ago breakup of Jellyfish, there is new hope for you in the Blakes' music.

This is catchy well-crafted music with strong vocals, lush harmonies and enough crunchy guitars to keep the rocker in you happy. New Tattoo is a very impressive debut -- but when playing it for your friends, have them listen before you mention that "power pop" thing, please.

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