Oingo Boingo is the sort of group that might appear on an episode of "Police Squad" and be described by a pink-haired, head-banded fan as "not punk . . . into the New Wave."
"Nothing to Fear," the group's second album, is a willfully kooky, willingly superficial affair. Its main purpose is decoration and most of its structural strategies are decorative. Many songs, like "Grey Matter," the lead-off track, are merely stock hard- rock, glitter and funk cliches dressed up in a hasty succession of cute, busy-dizzy gimmicks.
The most appealing cuts consist of overlapping layers of colorful, percussive squirts of melody concocted by Richard Gibbs' synthesizer and "all the boys" banging on "things" (i.e. the "rumba-phone," their own invention). "Running on a Treadmill" recalls Phillip Glass in a glib moment, a series of bright, woozy spirals.
Even at its best, however, Oingo Boingo lacks an essential core of direction and emotion. A few substantial tunes -- what distinguishes "Reptiles and Samurai" from the XTC back-catalogue it filches from so brazenly -- would have made a world of difference. Or a bit of passionate, heart-felt resolve; the dialectical guts that renders Devo's absurdist lyric assaults sanguine, while this outfit comes off as sappy.
Oingo Boingo has tried to put on the appearance of being witty, wacky innovators, but they wind up seeming a bunch of rootless, ruthless halfwits. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM: Nothing to Fear (A&M FP4903) THE SHOW: Wednesday at the Bayou.