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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

CD Review: The 88 - "Over and Over"

Over and Over CD CoverThe 88 pull out all of the stops on their latest CD, Over and Over. They gratuitously dig into the universal Pop collective, showing influences from the late 1960’s to contemporary fair. From my first listen to Over and Over, I could tell that the 88 had all of the prerequisites for a great Pop band. Every song seems meticulously constructed to meet Pop standards. There are great melodies, and flawless vocals and harmonies on every track. The first track, “Hide Another Mistake,” is an instantly gratifying, upbeat tune that begins with a tight guitar and drum intro, speckled with a few bass guitar glissandos for good measure. The Marc Bolan-ish (ala T-Rex) vocals play like an finely-tuned instrument, complementing the rhythmic backdrop. After this song finished playing, I immediately checked to see if lead vocalist, Keith Slettedahl was born on September 16, 1977, the same day that Marc Bolan died. Slettedahl’s vocal style on Over and Over has got to be more than coincidence. “All ‘Cause of You” is a mid-tempo, bouncing ballad that has equal parts Rock, swoon, and jangle. I can imagine that the live version of this tune is a killer crowd pleaser, especially with the ladies. A quick glance into the audience in the direction of a group of receptive ladies at the right time during the opening verses…

“I've been sinking through the drain of love
lift my eyes to skies of up above
listen to me this is how I feel
since I knew you all my thoughts are real
you're the only one I wanna do
everything's new and it's all ‘cause of you.”

…is probably like fishing with a stick of dynamite. “Bowls” has a groovy arrangement that utilizes space and showcases Slettedahl’s soaring Glam Rock vocal style. This song owes its fundamental catchiness to Carlos Torres’ melodic McCartney-like bass lines and Adam Merrin’s psychedelic keyboard work. This sounded like it could possibly be a remake from an old T-Rex album or a hidden track from The Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. “You Belong to Me” is an atmospheric acoustic that extols the power of love over the imperfections of the lovers. Slettedahl’s sings:

“I could tell an antique lie
full of all the things I want to hide
but that would only lead to the truth
you belong to me I belong to you.”

The acoustic guitar intro in this song is a direct lift from Big Star’s “The Ballad of El Goodo”. I wasn’t sure if this was done in homage to Big Star, or if it was done because their fan demographic wouldn’t know anything about Big Star or Alex Chilton. I’ll give The 88 the benefit of the doubt since both songs are thematically similar. Nevertheless this is a great acoustic number.

Overall, there’s not a single “throw away” song on this album and there are more hooks on these tracks than there are in your grandpa’s tackle box. These twelve solid tracks that show that The 88 have advanced degrees from Pop University, with minors in Retro Music Studies. Even though they seem to The 88 Group Shotuse the same formula for some of the songs (e.g. “All ‘Cause of You” and “Coming Home”), Over and Over track for track, is a consistently good, enjoyable album. To their credit, The 88, know the value of live performance and touring to build street credibility. I give them extra “cool points” because they acted as Elliott Smith’s back up band for a live performance of “Can’t Make a Sound” and because they wear suits and ties. You gotta give props to Indie bands that have a dry cleaning bill (unsolicited hint: FeBreeze can reduce the number of trips to the dry cleaner for all of you suit and tie wearing bands). I hear flashes of brilliance on this album as well as the echoes of such greats as Big Star, T-Rex, and Beatles, in the vocals, arrangements, and in their musical vocabulary. At times they remind me of a less horny version of The Knack. In any case, it’s no crime for The 88 to wear their influences on their sleeve. The 88 seem to be doing everything right from both a musical, image, and marketing standpoint. I can tell from their pristine recording that their live show probably has a welcome, rough edge and that they are each first-rate musicians. Although they’ve amassed a list of accolades and positive press as long as my arm, the true test of a consequential band is their ability to grow beyond their influences and continuously progress creatively without losing their fans. Time will tell. Maybe 25 years from now bands will be channeling The 88.

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Matt “Cosmic Dancer” Largo



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