Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Teen Machine - After School Special - 2000

The name of the band and the title of the album pretty much say all you need to know about this groovy Hollywood side project. For those who were born and grew up in the 1970s, watched Saturday morning cartoons religiously, sported feathered and blow-dried hairdos, wore tube tops or half-shirts, and swooned or danced to Shaun Cassidy records around the family hi-fi, After School Special is a fabulous flashback to a golden pop past. The album is full of expert examples of musical shoplifting. "Bitchin' Camaro," for one, is essentially the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" all jacked up to muscle car viscosity, at least up until the chorus, and "Sugarland" is a great knock-off of Brownsville Station's "Smokin' in the Boys Room," with its huge drum kick and dirty guitar riff. The riff on "Hot Mom," although considerably more fuel-injected, is nicked straight from the piano chords that open the Monkees' "Daydream Believer," and "Demolition Girl" swipes the arena-filling beat of Gary Glitter's "Rock 'N' Roll, Part 2" while suitably referencing Farah Fawcett. After School Special is certainly knowing and ironic, but it sounds much more like a loving tribute, a joyous celebration of everything that made and still makes the music of the 1970s so campy cool. Teen Machine makes no musical judgments. The band throws every '70s genre into the same pot, and treats it all with the same adoration. Glitter rock, bluesy boogie, bubblegum (a cover of the Ohio Express classic "Yummy Yummy Yummy" is included), power pop, and disco -- even the Laurel Canyon sheen of Fleetwood Mac from time to time -- all make appearances on the album, although the band leans most heavily on the shining guitars of power pop and the thick beats of glam. The songwriting duties are shared by Fuzzbubble main man Jim Bacchi (who is probably the band's pseudonymous lead guitarist El Diablo) and lead vocalist Cody Jarrett, and the co-ed septet also includes members of Dig and Felicity cast member Amanda Foreman, one of the trio of female background singers dubbed the cartoon-like Tube Tops. Their LP collections seem to all have the same records in common: Sweet, T. Rex, Kiss, Cheap Trick, the Partridge Family, the Brady Bunch, Leo Sayer, and Elton John. And they know how to combine them into wonderful pastiches, as on their cover of ABBA's "Does Your Mother Know?," which in their hands sounds as if the rhythm section of Blondie, straight from the sessions for "Heart of Glass," hooked up the Bay City Rollers with Leif Garrett taking the lead vocal. Jarrett's wonderful, raspy voice puts the music all the way over the top. He can sound like John Lennon one minute and David Cassidy the next. In many ways, the record is more a game of "spot the reference" than anything else. It doesn't pretend at anything like originality, but that is precisely what makes it such great diversion, an imagined time capsule to a one-of-a-kind era. As Bacchi writes in "Sugarland," you can "check your brain at the door" while spinning After School Special, but definitely not your sense of humor and bitchin' retro fun.-AMG