Marizane: Stage One

Stage One

I’m just going to go ahead and say from the start that I love this EP, absolutely adore it, so you’ll have to forgive me if there’s a lot of effusive praise in this review. I just can’t help it.

I’ve never been a huge fan of glam rock from the 1970s, but like many a listener and critic before me, I’ve always maintained a soft spot in my heart for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust days. And let’s face it, Bowie made glam’s excess great. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane are just great — great music and great fun. Still, all the bombast of the larger glam scene made glitter rock and roll a bit ridiculous, and aside from a bit of New York Dolls and the odd Queen song (come on, who doesn’t smile at the Flash Gordon soundtrack in all its cheesy regalia?), I’ve never gone ga-ga for glam.

So why am I so enamored of Marizane? Perhaps it’s a hint of nostalgia. Despite acts like the Stone Temple Pilots and (bizarrely) the Cheery Poppin’ Daddies making Hollywood glam discs, people just don’t make music like this anymore. Or maybe it’s the giant, anthemic guitars and good time, future-rock keyboards, an enthusiastic burst of feel-good rock in an era of otherwise maudlin blahs. Well, all that, yes, but there’s also that Bowie thing.

Despite this being the first official release by Marizane, you have to go back to 1992 to get the full story. Debbie Shair (keyboards) and Todd Jaeger (vocals, bass, guitars, theremin) met in Los Angeles, discovering a mutual love for classic rock and pop songcraft. Forming Marizane, the pair struck gold when they gained the attention of Tony Visconti, famed produced of albums by T. Rex, Badfinger, and, you got it Bowie (albeit pre- and post-Ziggy). Working with Visconti, the pair moved to New York and assembled a collection of tracks, moved back to L.A. in 1996, added guitarist/drummer Jeff Kluesner, and prepared to release Marizane’s debut album, Hypercube Sideshow (which included guest musicians Visconti and Darian Sahanaja and Probyn Gregory of the Wondermints). Unfortunately, the release was canned when Shair sustained an injury that prevented her from playing keys, and those songs only saw the light of day when Marizane released a limited-run of Songs from the Hypercube Sideshow in 2001.

Skip ahead a couple of years, and Marizane is back and ready to make a proper debut. Following the recording of a song for the Mayor of the Sunset Strip soundtrack, Marizane has culled three Visconti-produced tracks from the Hypercube Sideshow sessions, along with two more recent tracks to flesh out this release. And Stage One is as exciting an initial foray as the title implies. With a cover depicting the rocket ship from TV’s Thunderbirds, Marizane truly blasts off into space, leaving the listener wanting more.

Things kick off with “Of the Alien Christ” and immediately the classic Bowie comparisons are evident. While vocalist Todd Jaeger doesn’t quite match Bowie’s rebel rebel brattiness, he dips and soars as well as the Thin White Duke, and the lyrical patterns are certainly styled after Bowie’s. Musically, the song is anthemic stadium rock, with strummed verses bursting into great guitar licks, orchestration, and spacey theremin, creating a simple but imminently catchy melody, while the song itself is a tale of Marizane’s own mythology, similar to that of Ziggy himself. It’s a bold opening move, and it might have been too presumptuous had the rest of the album not followed through. Fortunately, Stage One rocks you from start to finish.

“The Devil’s Address” and “Preternatural Baby” make up the next two tracks, and are the last Visconti-produced material available here. Both continue to show a retro sensibility in their references to the past, the former being a piano-anchored that would make Mick Ronson of the Spiders proud and features such a rolling, lighter-waving rhythm that many lesser bands would be happy to end a disc with such a song, and the latter mixing T. Rex and “Young Americans” to delicious ends.

The final two tracks, “The Libertine” and “Sad Foolish Robot”, show what Marizane can do when they strike out on their own. Admittedly, the lack of Visconti’s deft studio hand is slightly noticeable, at least in that these tracks sound less directly derivative, but Marizane clearly learned from their time with the man. “The Libertine” is bombastic to the extreme and beautiful, with such an expansive low end that the whole jam of pianos, synths, dirty guitars, horns, and soaring harmonies is all contained in one perfect package (and, as so many others have noted, “The Libertine” is further proof that music needs more handclaps here, as they’re the chorus’s best hook). “Sad Foolish Robot” is a great closer, sounding here like a broader psych-pop band than specifically glam (I’m tempted to say the Dukes of Stratosphear could have performed this one). Huge and grandiose, the song really rocks, with extended guitar solos, pounding pianos, and hooks all over the place, including a soaring bridge, and dramatic finish.

Yup, I love this disc. Perhaps one of the key elements for me is that it completely eschews the current trend of muddy production for the sake of hipness. This is crisp, huge, clean music that truly shines, with attention to composition and clarity at every turn. Or maybe it’s just that this retro-futuristic band is damned fun to listen to. Marizane plans on releasing a full-length in early 2004, with older Hypercube music as well as newer material. I, for one, can’t wait for stage two.