Les Petits Sous: The John Hughes Project (Le Projet de John Hughes)
Okay, there's something I've been wanting to get off my chest for two or three reviews now. It applies to Les Petits Sous, so I'm sticking it at the beginning of their review, but they're certainly not the only ones or even the worst offenders. So here goes. A message to new bands: When designing your web site . . . don't . . . get . . . too . . . cute. Your site shouldn't just be a receptacle for a bunch of pictures of the band that might be fun to show your friends but are essentially insubstantial. There should be more information about you on the site than just the name of your CD, the songs on it, and where they can be downloaded/purchased. I say this not just as a critic who tries very hard to research his reviews as best he can and be as well-informed on the bands he writes about as possible, but as a member of the general public. Also, understand that those whose sites have pop-up ads will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes (PopMatters isn't getting any, are we Sarah?).
A three-piece band (Aaron, Claudia, and Alley) formed in New York earlier this year, Les Petits Sous set themselves the task of making "a soundtrack for a John Hughes movie that never was." Which is no small thing to be -- Hughes's soundtracks to films like Some Kind Of Wonderful were oases of "modern rock" in the desert of Klymaxx, Patti LaBelle, Michael McDonald, Eddie Murphy(!) and Survivor.
For the most part, they succeed. Songs like "Your Big Brown Eyes", "The Palace of Stars" and "You Are the Coolest" sound like a cross-pollination of the white noise of Jesus And Mary Chain, and the tight exciting playing of OMD (on those couple of tracks where they turned down the keyboards and let guitars soar, granted) with lyrics of love/hate for the old schools delivered with a sense of humor. In writing and performance alone, it is easy to picture these songs fitting in between the unfamiliar groups (Flesh For Lulu, Lick the Tins, Psychedelic Furs . . . ) Hughes used to bring to the early "alternative" audience.
Now, Les Petits Sous could use a couple of things, like more polished production (what are Steven Hague, Flood--a little sonic collage never hurt anyone--or Steve Lillywhite doing these days..) and a more interesting rhythm section and/or drum machine programming. But given their apparent affection for teenage fixation, in some ways it's appropriate that their music should be so raw at the moment The angst and self-doubt of such feelings are rarely that polished or interesting (to anyone except the adolescent having them) themselves.
Speaking of angst and self-doubt, one couldn't accuse Les Petits Sous of being immodest. Their idea of hyping themselves is to write things like (quoting a recent e-mail) "we're not trying to write anything more than simple, sing-a-long pop songs, that are about strumming some chords and going with the first melody that comes into your head." This half-apologetic attitude is really not necessary -- Les Petits Sous have very little to be half-apologetic about -- although I admit it's rather more charming than the two or three hype sheets I get each month assuring me that each new band is the next big thing, misunderstood geniuses all.
Still, much as I might like to believe otherwise, casting back to '80s pop is probably still not that hip (one Michael Jackson cover on the modern rock charts doth not a trend make). A CD like The John Hughes Project is the fulfillment of some of my dreams, but I have to wonder if it has anything to say to the 15-year-olds of today, the generation for whom a high school movie is Can't Hardly Wait. But the group seems to know this. "You are the coolest" ends with a catalog of cool, as Alley and Claudia list off people they want to be like, mostly glitter-pop icons such as David Bowie, Debbie Harry and Marc Bolan, though Iggy Pop sneaks in there too. They acknowledge the datedness of their sources with the last line "Don't want to live for today, I want to live for yesterday."
Les Petits Sous belong on the soundtrack to Some Kind of Wonderful 2: Keith and Watts in New York Readers should suit themselves as to whether that sounds like something they want to hear. But you know where I'll be. Alone, dancing, you know it baby.