When legendary jack-of-all-trades gonzo Kim Fowley calls you "godlike geniuses of dumbass rock 'n' roll" as he did for Bristol's the Mighty Stars, you just might be onto something. After all, this was a man who worked with Frank Zappa and produced the Modern Lovers long before they garnered their hip cachet. Then again, this is also the man who sang about "flying dogs and silver cats and emerald rats and purple clouds", so there's a strong possibility that even when he's flinging about such an impressive-sounding complement, he's just talking out of his ass.
The Fowley statement is more than just a matter of passing interest to the Mighty Stars, however, since much of the buzz surrounding them comes from their association with him. Considering that they're bunched in with the garage rock revival that already seems to be on its last legs, they need something to help them stand out. Had they come along just a couple of years prior, when major labels couldn't sign clones of the White Stripes and the Strokes fast enough, they might've been battling it out with the Datsuns and the Vines for second-tier status even without the former's pitch-perfect name or the latter's elaborate hype ("Our lead singer's totally crazy! Really! We had to hold him back from going completely nuts during the photo shoot for Rolling Stone! Omigod! He rarely bathes! You gotta believe us!"). Alas, no one much cares for the Vines these days, and even their more promising brethren the Hives haven't exactly kept up their visibility since their debut placed them in a temporary holy trinity of the garage revival with the Strokes and the Stripes.
So what might the fate of the Mighty Stars be? In all likelihood, they'll be dragged down with the ship regardless of the merits of their music. There are only so many ways to arrange three chords and a brutal beat in the span of three minutes, and the Mighty Stars, barely on the far side of their teens, stick too closely to their source material to come up with something that transcends the formula. Their EP, The Mighty Stars Are Go!, contains five attempts to rawk like it's 1966 all over again, but the combination of their inexperience and the inherent limitations of their chosen genre work against the band's attempt at distinction. "Small Wonder" and "Go!" hold their own against other Nuggets-derived fare, but "Let's Play" sums up the band's shortcomings so neatly, it threatens to drown out the modest pleasures they serve up elsewhere. The song itself is generic, but that has always been a given in garage rock. Rather, the problem lies with how forced it is, from its naughty schoolboy title to the energy they try to inject into a song structure too weak to reward it. "Let's Play" is like a crystal ball for these lads, showing a future in which they continue flailing away at their instruments on songs called "Make a Mess", "Tear It Up", and "Rock Hard" until the disparity between their real ages and the ages they're pretending to be becomes too vast for even the band itself to stomach.
Still, all is not lost for these lads, even if the tides of fashion are working against them. They are still young, and it's hardly unprecedented for a green band to go from writing a couple of good songs to writing a bunch of them and maybe even a few great ones. But regardless of how much appetite the public still has for this revival, the Mighty Stars would be shrewd to start throwing some musical curveballs instead of just trying to bring the heat every time. Other than the dire vocals, the biggest thing threatening to do in this band is the groan of familiarity from the audience. Anyone who's been listening to music for any length of time has been there and heard that. The Mighty Stars' accomplishments on this EP may not set the world on fire, but they do show a group with talent that belies their youth, and should they ever forsake their attempt to recreate rock's past, they might just earn themselves a nice little spot in its future.