Jacuzzi Boys' new album, Ping Pong, enters swinging. This little garage rock band of boys might have matured a bit.
Jacuzzi Boys are often categorized as ‘garage rock’ and are talked about accordingly. Google a Jacuzzi Boys review, and you'll be hard-pressed to find one that does not frame the review as a “garage rock makeover” in some way. This is not completely inaccurate, as the band writes simple, guitar-based songs with fuzzy bass and often absurd lyrics. Although on Ping Pong there is so much more happening. Opening track “Lucky Blade” is in many ways a rehash of the sounds we’ve heard from this Miami band before -- big fuzzy chords, sneering vocals, and a simple construction. But there is something more confident and nuanced happening here: the group has taken some cues from the garage rock canon, but has developed into something more singular.
Jacuzzi Boys’ first album, 2009’s No Seasons , is the root cause of the garage rock term that has been attached to them since. The album is grungy and fun, of course, but it lives up to its categorization and little else. 2011’s Glazin’ saw the group adding swagger into the mix with tracks like “Born Dancer” sounding like T. Rex without qualification. 2013’s self-titled effort saw the group working on expanding their sound palette -- the guitars are bigger, the tones more varied, and there’s a ton of noise going on in the background. In hindsight, all of these albums, although worth your time, sound like steps towards Ping Pong. The group has meshed all their skills acquired over the years into one vast and varied yet solid structure.
“New Cross” starts out a sonic speed and never slows down, and with lyrics like “tie me down with bubble gum”, it could fit quite well on No Seasons. In other places, the group cribs from the Ramones more than ever before. To my ears, “Strange Exchange” is the best send-up of '80s Ramones ever put on tape. The following track, “Iodine”, starts with a Ramones riff straight out of Pleasant Dreams as well. Elsewhere, they seem to take on classic rock tropes. “Boys Like Blood” postures like a tough guy song, announcing that “Girls like love, and boys like blood” with all the confidence and swagger of ‘72 Mick Jagger. “Seventeen” focuses on one of the main fascinations of classic rock artists: rebellious youth. Over a slow groove led by the bass player, the group sings, “I’m seeing blue, staring at the teenage moon. We’re not like them, but sometimes it’s fun to pretend.”
To close the album, Jacuzzi Boys succeeds in playing with psychedelia on the six-plus minute “Tip of My Tongue/Edge of My Brain”. The track begins as a Beatles homage, somehow sweeps into Ramones territory, and then morphs into something all its own. And that seems to be the key to the album right there: taking what you know and having the expertise and confidence to make it into a brand new brew—your own brew, that is.