All Fuzzed Up
Finally, a band that can deliver an original, truly good power-pop album
The Deathray Davies, The Return of the Drunk Ventriloquist (Idol Records)
Like all labels that exist as a shortcut to thinking, the term “power pop” is frequently inaccurate and unflattering in the way that it casts its net so wide. Still, it is inarguable that a great number of bands have more Cheap Trick, Big Star, and Replacements records in their collections than sense in their heads. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but let’s get real—most power-pop bands don’t come within miles of sounding like their heroes. Or if they do, they somehow lose the point that they’re supposed to sound like themselves. The Deathray Davies understand all this, and in lieu of attempting a pale imitation, the group crafts a sound of its own.
On The Return of the Drunk Ventriloquist, the band isn’t afraid to add some fuzz to the recording and, in fact, seems to make a point of it: Every song is steeped in warm fuzz, even when there’s nothing more than a guitar and voice. This is a remarkably noisy record; every mic was running a little hot. This makes a tremendous impact on the whole sound, but specifically does great service to the sound of the drums. The high mic levels on the percussion make it sound closer to the fuzz-tone of the guitars.
The Deathray Davies also do their best to make sure the keyboards sound just as fuzzy as the guitars. Squawks and crackles are de rigueur for the Davies: Songs like “Square” and “Jack Never Crashes” bang and pound through their hooks with warbling, squealing keyboards accentuating the ups and downs.
On the subject of hooks, there are plenty; the Davies realize as well that the best pop songs are done in less than three minutes. Rather than trying to tell a whole story in the verses, they rhyme a couplet or two and take off to the huge chorus. The hooky first line of “Jack Never Crashes” smacks of every good-times radio rock song—“I’m doing 60 in a 30, got your 45 stuck in my head”—before plowing straight into the chorus.
The Davies also demonstrate remarkable confidence and ingenuity in the way they put their songs together. After the first chorus of “Jack Never Crashes,” the song takes off into an extended verse with different instrumentation, a chorus without words, a bridge, and then a solo before repeating the first verse and chorus. It isn’t an unfamiliar form, but it still avoids the conventional wisdom of “repeat the chorus till it sticks.”
This isn’t to say that the Deathray Davies’ record is an experiment in pop deconstruction. “Clever Found a Name” relies on a familiar formula and secures itself in its big beats and loud guitars. Likewise, “I Never Thought Today Would Be So Strange” uses the simple yet time-honored tradition of loud-soft dynamics, with quiet verses leading to big choruses.
“Chinese Checkers and Devo Records” closes the album with a tour de force of fuzzy noises, loud drums, big hooks, and great production. With suitable enthusiasm, it wraps up what could easily be considered a perfect power-pop album. Some tracks on Drunk Ventriloquist are better than others, to be sure, but the overall impact of the album is fantastic. This is the way rock records should be made—noisy, catchy, and fun.