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  Listen Up! 4/9/04 Listen Up!

Friday, Apr. 9

David Mead, “Indiana,” Nettwerk America. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, because you probably have. There have been so many singer/songwriters with the delicate tenor voice capable of rising to a swooping falsetto, and all of them write every song in the same damn mid-tempo. They all have the strongly strummed guitars, and the gentle rhythm section, and the lilting melodies. Some of them are damn good – Crowded House and Michael Penn come to mind – but a lot of them are just plain ordinary. The difference is in the melodies and harmonies, the ability to move beyond received ideas and achieve something unique. Mead’s one unusual step on this record is a cover of “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson, and he makes it sound pretty much exactly like his other songs, except you know the melody better. If Mead’s lucky, there will be a teen drama on the WB desperately needing one of these songs for a montage scene of all the characters missing each other or remembering their times together or something like that.

Jem, “Finally Woken,” ATO Records. Here we go, second review of the day, and again I’m ready to use the word “lilting.” Jem’s melodies are lilting as all hell, but the beats are better than David Mead’s. I think this could have been one heck of a four-track EP. I’m particularly taken with “They,” a jaunty little playful track incorporating samples of the Swingle Singers (yeah, who ever thought you could have used those guys in anything worth hearing?) doing some Bach stuff. Of course, I’m a sucker for counterpoint anywhere I find it. I guess I just loved singing rounds when I was a kid. Anyway, you could do worse than listen to this pleasant record, but don’t expect it to change your life any time soon.

Ass Ponys, “Some Stupid With A Flare Gun,” Checkered Past Records. This album came out four years ago, and the Ass Ponys did a fine follow-up to it the next year, with “Lohio.” But, somehow, I never got around to hearing this one until today, and I think it may be their finest album. These guys are one of the greatest virtually ignored rock bands in the country today. They write songs with well-developed melodies that take completely unexpected left turns, they rock out and add quirky guitar riffs and solos, and their singer is like David Thomas from Pere Ubu with a more direct, and slightly twangy, approach. And, if you ever get the chance to see them live, they’re even more astounding.

The Bigger Lovers, “This Affair Never Happened . . . And Here Are Eleven Songs About It.” This review never happened . . . and yet I’ve got to fill space with something. Actually, I really like this record. These guys have absorbed the power pop rule book, all those George Harrison guitar sounds and John Lennon vocal bits, not to mention the push and pull drumming of Ringo via the more complicated rhythms of the Raspberries. But, they don’t write songs just like anybody else. Thus, you’ve got familiarity mixed with something novel, and that’s a recipe for success in my book. I can’t really attest to the love and heartbreak thematic material, since words don’t penetrate my ears all that much, especially while I’m at work. But, these eleven songs crunch and snap nicely; give me a few listens and I expect I’ll have ‘em all in my head somewhere. Bonus surprise points, thanks to Steve Scariano’s keen ears. “You’ve Got To Pay” is actually a cover of an Only Ones song, played at about half the tempo of the original.

William Hung, “Inspiration,” Koch Records. When was the last time you heard a record guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of virtually every man, woman, and child within earshot? Maybe the smile might take a minute, after an initial burst of “What the fuck?” quizicalness, but once it’s there, it just builds and builds until you’re practically as giddy as the last time you ate pot brownies at a slumber party. If you don’t know already, Hung is the Asian-American guy who won America’s heart by getting the boot on “American Idol” after a particularly heart-felt but execrable version of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” Well, that song is here, but it doesn’t begin to capture the true depths of this man’s lack of talent. Oh, yeah, the up-tempo songs can reveal a complete lack of pitch and rhythm, but wait until you hear the ballads. There are notes nobody would have considered possible within the melody of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” or the Eagles “Hotel California.” I’ve already made it further through this record than I did either Ruben Studdard’s or Clay Aikens, last year’s Idol leaders. If you’re gonna be insipid, you might as well have some fun with it. Hung seems both in on the joke and desperately sincere in his delivery, an amazing ability to play both the yin and the yang at the same time. It’s probably pathetic, but it’s just damn funny, anyway.

--Steve Pick

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