Spin Control

October 15, 2006



    The Hold Steady, "Boys and Girls in America" (Vagrant)

    Critic's rating: 1 star

    Hot on the heels of the Killers' reworking of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" as bad New Wave/glam-rock comes pretentious lit major and former Minneapolitan Craig Finn's emo version of "Born to Run" on the much-hailed third album by his now Brooklyn-based quartet the Hold Steady, which no less a geezer authority than Rolling Stone hails as "America's best bar band." The title is nicked from On the Road: "There are nights when I think Sal Paradise was right / Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together," Finn croons in the opening lines of "Stuck Between Stations," making his overreaching aspirations crystal clear. But not only does he fall far short of Jack Kerouac's boozy brilliance, he's not even as good as Charles Bukowski at his soggiest.

    The "philosopher on a bar stool" posing that permeates this album is even sillier and more cliched than the bombastic, overblown heartland rock, which comes decorated with a filigree of grand piano and glockenspiel. You'd swear it was really a parody if Finn wasn't so unrelentingly earnest, and I'd suggest a drinking game with listeners taking a shot every time they hear a laughable line that's obviously Kerouac or Springsteen-inspired -- another of the many: "I feel Jesus in the clumsiness of young and awkward lovers / I feel Judas in the long odds of the rackets on the corners," from the disc's musical nadir, the mostly acoustic "Citrus" -- but most will have succumbed to alcohol poisoning much sooner.



    Scissor Sisters, "Ta-dah" (Universal/Motown)

    Critic's rating: 3 stars

    Driven by an absurd but undeniable disco cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," the 2004 debut by the gleefully silly and unapologetically retro New York cabaret act the Scissor Sisters was the best-selling album in the U.K. that year, and its follow-up is similarly setting the British charts on fire. Yes, our cousins across the ocean have a higher tolerance for nostalgic shtick -- witness the popularity (thankfully waning) of sub-Spinal Tap heavy-metal goofballs the Darkness -- but the truth is that it's hard not to crack a smile or feel the urge to don some polyester and hit the dance floor while listening to the far-ranging '70s genre tributes of Jake Shears, Ana Matronic & Co.

    The camp quotient is higher this time around, but so is the musical playfulness, from the disco-anthem collaboration with Elton John on the opening "I Don't Feel Like Dancin' " to the female-empowering, Gloria Gaynor-style "Kiss You Off" ("Kiss you off my lips / I don't need another tube of that dimestore lipstick / Well I think I'm gonna buy me a brand new shade of man," Ana sings) to the melodramatic-in-a-good-way, strings-enhanced torch song "Land of a Thousand Words." There are echoes not only of all the expected disco-era heroes and heroines (Chic! KC & the Sunshine Band! ABBA!) -- heavy on the Bee Gees, thanks to Shears' falsetto crooning -- but of pretty much every other idiosyncratic, left-field '70s AM hitmaker you can name (Supertramp! Leo Sayer! Paul Williams!), as well as plenty that have been forgotten.

    The impressive trick is that for all their blatant thievery, the Scissor Sisters still wind up sounding utterly unique on the current music scene, which just goes to show how much we've needed a return to that gender-bending '70s hedonism, glitter-ball glamour and genre-blind "it's all dance music" approach to pop craftsmanship.