THE ALBUM-- The Cretones, "Thin Red Line" (Planet Records P-5).; THE SHOW -- At the Bayou, Tuesday at 8 and 11.
For better or worse, The Cretones first gained national attention as Linda Ronstadt's backup band. Like Warren Zevon and Andrew Gold before them, they got a boost to the big time by writing and playing for the country-punk superstar. Now with their debut album, "Thin Red Line," the L.A. Cretones step out of her shadow with a brand of power-rock that barely skims the surface of new wave.
Three songs written by Cretones guitarist Mark Goldenberg -- "Justine," "Mad Love" and "Cost of Love" -- got the royal Ronstadt treatment on her lastest LP. And they turned up again on "Thin Red Line," though at first you can't help feeling there's something missing.Where are the powerful female pipes? On their own, the foursome does offer controlled, sometimes raspy vocals full of sentiment, tough and insinuating, but not as coy as Ronstadt.
Goldenberg, who previously toured with Al Stewart and Wendy Waldman, wrote all the songs on the LP (collaborating with Andrew Gold and Cretones bass player Peter Berstein on two). Each cut taps a common obsession, laced with musical builds and fade-outs. Ultimately their intelligent clamorous rockers work well with the original male meanings intact.
Throughout the Cretones' album, the theme is love -- but always troubled love, with the bottom about to drop out. They present romance as a mysterious struggle, from the helpless "Mad Love" -- "You're shorting out all my pride/Like fireworks exploding inside" -- to the fed-up "Real Love" -- "You knock back your feelings like you knock back a drink." And while the songs use the latest punk mannerisms -- agitated tempo, angry tone -- they speak of age-old agonies:
Ever since the world began
In the game between a woman and man
All it takes is a touch or a glance
Arm in arm you're elect by chance
There's a breaking heart on every track, with one catchy hookline apiece. On "Everybody's Mad at Katherine," The Creatones give a tongue-in-cheek testimonial to the all-American sweetheart. The slow-paced sob-song draws the listener in, starting with the tense opening guitar chords and building into Steve Leonard's electric keyboard jabs. In brief, the guys are upset with the girl who's leaving the neighborhood to hook up with a Marine: "They're crying behind the American Legion Hall." It's perhaps their finest cut, with a fluid rock arrangement rising and falling behind the small town soap opera.
For all The Cretones' flip, punk-styled anger, they capture a familiar heartache. If their Bayou performance this week matches their studio work, it should be an effective mingling of harsh rock with artful pop.