Songs whose hooks consist almost entirely of nonsense syllables have never been my cup of tea. With the venerable exception of the Major Lance hit, "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," I tend to dive for the off-button every time this sort of tune turns up on the radio.
So I was disappointed on two counts when the Greg Kihn Band finally found a hit single in last year's "The Breakup Song," the second reason being that it's not really representative of what this five-piece San Francisco band can do.
On the other hand, it's hard to say what would have been a "typical" single, since Kihn and company specialize in, er, not specializing. "Rockihnroll," catchy as it was, didn't display this rather unselfconscious versatility quite the way "Kihntinued," its followup, does. It'll be interesting to see how the package-minded radio industry will handle it, not to mention whether the group can maintain its freshness and integrity.
Kihn, a native of Baltimore, drily confesses that the group "doesn't really have an over-all concept of how we should sound." If that sounds like an invitation to failure in these times of color-coded uniformity, consider how comfortably a Champlinesque, blue-eyed funker like "Every Love Song" coexists on the same side with the classic- sounding rock of "Everyday/Saturday," in which the borderline pop cliches ("Every day is Saturday night") are balanced by the upbeat loyalty of the musicians to traditional American rock-and-roll.
Lyrics on tracks like "Happy Man," "Sound System" and "Seeing is Believing" are sanguine and just this side of silly. But it's really the relaxed, rock-competent playing of guitarist Dave Carpender and keyboardist Gary Phillips that puts this album a notch or two ahead of the competition.
Kihn protests that the band isn't trying to cop an attitude, and indeed, if there is one to be discerned, it's the long-neglected rock tenet of professionalism without pretension. Even producer Matthew King Kaufman strives for a well-ventilated mix that's mercifully free of slick studio tricks. All of which makes it a whole lot more forgivable to be dippy when the occasion arises.
In other words, the utter "it's-only- rock'n'roll" lack of calculation makes it possible for "Kihntinued" to suck us right in.
Another promising sign: Having spent the last decade in and around San Francisco, Kihn describes the group as "definitely a West Coast band." Considering how much mushmellow music that area has dished us over the past decade, one can only hope "Kihntinued" will spread some mainstream rock to the band's California kith'n'kihn.
ON RECORD -- Greg Kihn Band, "Kihntinued," Beserkley E1-60101.
ON STAGE -- Opening act for Journey, Saturday at 8 at the Capital Centre.