by Patrick Muldowney
When it comes to rock, the best punk move you can make in the modern-itsallbeendonebefore-day may concern placing your tongue-in-cheek. I can appreciate that and at least smirk, but that does not mean I'm encouraging anyone to insert anyone to move her tongue in and out of that cheek repeatedly. At times, Chantal Claret is doing exactly that on Morningwood's Morningwood disc. When that is not the case, this is a great contribution to the major label world.
The entertainment value of this band shines through from the beginning. I recall first encountering the band during some MTV interview during a summer festival. They were high energy, and seemed ready to be bigger than a 2 AM clip. Some bands just have that arrogance and presence, and Morningwood definitely needed that to overcome their band name. Frankly, I think a cover band from Pittston, Pennsylvania, may have had the name once, when they opened for Richard and His Two Nuts at Club Amnesia. That was back when Aerosol Bands knew about chicks, not copyrights, so Morningwood celebrates their victory in the cliché name sweepstakes, by producing "Nu Rock," with an umlaut over the "u." This is the first song on the tour of scenic Morningwood, and it is every bit as rocking and credible as a new Yeah Yeah Yeah's song, while being as listenable as old Joan Jett. It is also very reflective of the teen demographic, with shouts out to "kids" and "revolution." Claret immediately shows her radio sensibility by clocking out at 2:30. Finally, it is much more appealing than Avril Lavigne when she calls hipsters out for being soulless. Cynicism aside, with all their rock antics, Morningwood has some integrity, and it is apparent from the first song.
The self-titled album is reminiscent of 80s rock in more than just sound, but also arrangement. The first four songs are the strongest possible singles, and the B-sides are the type that would have warranted auto-reverse on your cassette player, so you could fast forward until it flipped back to Side A. "Televisor" may be the best song of the A sides. It is straightforward 3-chord rock in standard time, with snare drum hits on almost every beat, plus the presence of Pedro Yanowitz's bass is similar to Tolhurst on early Cure songs. This also has some of Chantal Claret's strongest, and more serious, lyrics. The lines, "I'd like to think our lives were like a movie/Too bad I can't think outside the box," show that Morningwood might have enough depth to go farther than The Donnas, and possibly compare to Blondie.
A song that had to have been recognized as a hit from the moment of inception is "Nth Degree." It is wonderful for two simple reasons, other than it is infectious. First, if you can spell the name of your band repeatedly throughout your hit single, you deserve Kudos. Anyone who likes the song, and can spell, will not have to wait for the deejay to find out the band's name. Plus, what average kid wouldn't get a kick out of walking around spelling Morningwood in their head. Second, it is wonderful because so many people are going to run out to get this pretty sounding retro pop album (without reading this review), and be severely disappointed when Chantal Claret screams on almost every other track. There will be as many Morningwood discs in the used bin as Beck had after millions bought Mellow Gold thinking every song would sound like "Loser."
Other highlights from the album include "Jetsetter," the last of the best. This song has a great change vocally, sounding like a Juliana Hatfield song at the start, before countering with a Sugarsmack-like rant. The music on some other songs, such as "Take Off Your Clothes," is really solid and well produced (4 smileys to Gil Norton), but really lack much thought lyrically. On the aforementioned song, vocals aside, you might mistake this for a Pixies' song, but the sexuality is not nearly as brilliant as Frank Black on "Cactus," with lyrics comparing more favorably in tone to R. Kelly.
Morningwood definitely conveys rock star ability on this self-titled album. This is fortunate in that they entertain, and mostly stay within the 3-minute boundary established for major label artists. Unfortunately, they may find themselves playing for thousands of dolts who ignore their energy until the opening bar of "Nth Degree."
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