THE ALBUM -- Sea Level's "Ball Room," Arista (AB 9531). THE SHOW -- At the Bayou, Monday at 8 and 11.
If they gave an award for pubescent kitschrock, Sea Level would win hands down for "Ball Room," an album destined to make Sue Saad and the Next seem like altruists.
Since their jazz-rock debut in 1977, Sea Level has undergone more changes than a mood ring at a Kiss concert: seven personnel alterations (including two since this pressing) and at least that many leaps in musical direction. The band's claim to fame is that leader Chuck Leavell once played keyboards for the Allman Brothers, a fact that must cause Greg Allman to assume the fetal position every time it's aired in some record company bio.
But let's not harp on past achievements. "Ball Room" marks Leavell's decision to flee fusion entirely (along with its concomitant expectations of musical technique) and embrace the minimalist K-Tel school of rock, which operates on the bloated arrogance that teens will buy anything. Judging from the result, he's definitely got the knack.
The band is hip to the lesser demands of their new audience, as indicated on "Bandstand," a noodling ballad: "Take a look over your shoulder/Take a look at this crowd/Whatever we do/It better be loud." Intended as a Seger-esque, stage-eye-view confessional, the song goes on to present rock singers as cowboys (a novel idea if you were in diapers from 1969 to 1974) and describe the audience as "a room full of horses standing at their feet."
Then there's "Comfort Range," written by Randall Bramblett and Davis Causey, which lures its teen prey to "Come with me baby/To the dark side of Illinois," go on a "joy ride" and "cruise the center of doom." Bruce Springsteen, eat your heart out.
Or there's the hard-rock number, "School Teacher," in which we learn this tragic story: "Little Sister in the bathroom/Liquor bottle on the floor/ Mr. Johnson done told her/He don't love her no more."
But wait! There's more. I haven't gotten to the one about the drowning victim who metamorphoses into this sort of Loch Ness monster so he can suck the breath out of . . .
Well, okay, it ought to be pointed out that Sea Level has forgotten neither its jazz-oriented fans nor the critics who hailed the group's debut LP as landmark fusion. They're sticking to their conviction that those same folks have still not heard the work of venerable fusion pioneers like the Sons of Champlin, the Brecker Brothers and the Jazz Crusaders. Unless Sea Level misses its guess, hardly anybody will notice that "Struttin'," the album's lone instrumental, is a shameless larceny of the Crusaders' "Chain Reaction" material, with a Brecker Brothers, circa-1976 bridge.
The abysmal, ABBA progressions found on track after track of "Ball Room" are not nearly as offensive as the singing. Neither Bramblett nor Leavell seem capable of homing in on a note, and Bramblett's rock wailing in particular resembles something you're likely to hear at the vet's.
This is dismal, D-level stuff, executed leeringly by a group lacking the technique to play "Jesus Loves Me" in whole notes with any finesse. You may want to catch their act Monday night at the Bayou. On the other hand, you may just want to grab a Slurpee and see what's poppin' down at the Seven-Eleven.