Is there really a song here about tator tots and robots? Yes. And about Leonard Nimoy. And Greta Garbo. But it's all so good.
I realized the brilliance of Thomas Lunch's debut, Diagrams Without Instructions, the way a cartoon character sees smoke ("Huh?"), smells something burning ("sniff, sniff"), and then realizes he's the "something" burning ("Yeeeooowwww!"). First, I saw his name, and then I saw the album title. As soon as the first track, "Fire Puppy", smacked my ears with its handclaps and blazing guitars, it was all over.
Diagrams is a difficult work to classify. You might say it's a neo-indie-electric-grunge-blues fusion. Then again, you might not. Try this: Take Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet (the guitars and the vocals) and cross it with Pearl Jam's Vitalogy (the style and song structure moreso than the bad-ass rugged heftiness of Eddie Vedder's vocals). Got that? All right, add a splash of Nirvana, plus a drop of Prince and a smidgeon of INXS (check out "You Are My Drug"). Now take those comparisons, and the styles they represent, and reformat them into a wholly original, authentic concoction. Nice work, if you can get it. And we as consumers don't seem to be getting it that often. Maybe that's why, in "Centipede Centerpiece", Lunch demands, "Why all the fools make all the ... / Why all the fools make all the ... / Why all the fools make all the rules?"
The album succeeds because, despite its musical diversity, it sounds wonderfully cohesive, emanating from the same insightfully disturbed and wildly inspired source. Uptempo rock, along the lines of "Very Elbow" and the aforementioned "Fire Puppy", keeps company with the eccentricity of "Tator Tots & Robots", which opens to dense pulsating beats similar to those in Prince's "Let's Pretend We're Married", and otherwise reminds me of a faster-paced "Take On Me" by A-ha. The pace of awesomely titled "I Love You When You Throw a Fit" sits comfortably in the same collection as mellow guitar interlude "Full Moon Fingerhorn", or the beautifully melancholy "Beginnings".
You know you've got skills when you can make people praise you because of, rather than in spite of, song titles like "Tator Tots & Robots", "Greta Garbo", and the boldly-going-where-no-other-rocker-could-go "Leonard Nimoy". It's fresh enough, interesting enough, and innovative enough to make people (like me), who get off on criticizing musicians, say, "Hey, you gotta hear this CD. It's hot." My main nitpick (couldn't let you off that easy, Mr. Lunch!) is that the songs are, overall, too short. Out of the 14, only two last longer than four minutes, which means just when you're getting into the zone, the jam is over and you're left with the feeling the world won't stop bouncing. Luckily, with Diagrams, you'll realize it's not the world that's moving so quickly; it's your head that won't stop nodding.