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The Lookyloos: Perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited and vulgar as our ow

Jason Thompson

The Lookyloos

Perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so limited and vulgar as our own.

Label: Lather
US Release Date: 2002-10-08
UK Release Date: Available as import

OK, let's get the literary part of this review out of the way first. Oscar Wilde fans should immediately be able to recognize the title of this album. Other folks probably won't. So be it. That said, on to the meat and potatoes. To put it in a nutshell, this album has to be one of the most aggravating listening experiences that I've had so far this year. I wonder about bands like the Lookyloos, with their cute name and pretentious album title and what they'd like to achieve with either/or. Perhaps pizza and beer money so that the day job money can be used for better things (like potato chips and soda). I also wish this album were half as clever as its back cover photo featuring people in an art museum looking at a picture of people in an art museum looking at a painting. Or wait, that's probably just even extra pretentious. You just can't win sometimes.

The Lookyloos stretch for that cerebral/well-read taste on this disc, but they don't manage to make it interesting. Such is the case with these types all too often. Putting form and function before style is the name of the game, usually because bands like these often don't have too much style, giving the impression that they have been sweating it out in grad school and doing the band thing on the side because the pizza and beer money seemed like a good proposition. Of course, these guys might be playing for pizza and beer, so it's hard to say.

The music is better than worse most of the time here, but I can't stand the singer. So let me introduce you to the band. There's Eric Janssen on vocals and guitar, Paul Takushi on drums and vocals, and Dave Thompson on bass and vocals. The offender here is Janssen. Now I've listened to plenty of albums that I have enjoyed where the singer couldn't do his part at all, but Janssen is a different case entirely. Going out of tune on a regular basis is his forte. Reaching for the notes that he obviously can't reach, even though it sounds like he's actually going past them in his attempts to do so, is another malady that instilled madness into my mind when I was trying my damndest to listen to and appreciate this album and overlook the vocal flaws. But I couldn't do it.

The Lookyloos have a bit of fascination with late '60s rockers such as the Byrds. Indeed, the old retro vibe of the first track, "The Tall Girl with My Heart in Her Hands" is one of the better songs on the album. A full-bodied production, with spacious sounding guitars ringing like bells kicks things off to a good start. Janssen's voice croaks like crazy here, but at least he's not trying too hard yet. That starts happening around the third song, "The Goats of Kashmir" which has to be one of the worst songs I've ever heard in my life. It starts out calm enough, but when the tune finally breaks free, make sure to wear your earplugs. Janssen completely topples over himself trying so hard to "sing" here that you're not sure whether to wretch or laugh uncontrollably. I'm pretty sure I did both.

But when he's sticking to the low notes, Janssen is pretty good. "A Parisian in America" has a nice late night sleepy vibe to it. The guitars are lush and the vocals are warm and inviting. Too bad he doesn't stick to that formula in the upbeat "Enchanted"; that would have been an absolutely killer song had anyone else done the singing. But even the backing vocals here sound completely unsure of themselves, perhaps because the other guys can't sing either, or they were trying to just hold the back down inconspicuously while Janssen wailed away up front, only to be as audibly poor as he.

"Doledrums" is the other good song here where Janssen doesn't extend his reach. The Byrds flavor is captured perfectly here and makes one hope that the band will pull it out for the back nine. But the problem is they simply can't. Instead, they put the guns to their feet and shoot them squarely, toppling otherwise decent tunes like "Spanish Castles" into unmitigated blandness. Again, blame Janssen. It's hard to take tunes like "The Actress" and the already horribly titled "I Just Went to the Cemetery and Picked You up Some Flowers" seriously when he warbles away, chipping away with ease the able music.

It's a shame. The Lookyloos could very well be excellent, but the mouthpiece is holding them back. I suggest a new vocalist. Someone who can do justice to the songs and really take them to the heights that they deserve. This probably won't happen and the Lookyloos will fade into the same obscurity from whence they came. In the end, it won't matter at all, but to think what this album could have been and where it could have possibly gone makes one wish for a better outcome.

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