The Nitecaps star in Susan Seidelman's fine, funny film about New York's punk scene "Smithereens," already a cult hit there. On their debut' album, "Go to the Line," the Nitecaps take the unpromising approach of punks trying to revive the classic Memphis soul sound. Their hearts are obviously in the right place but they simply lack the skills and experience to pull it off. Moreover, they add too little to the tradition to create something new.
Lead singer Jahn Xavier is an alumnus of Richard Hell and the Voidoids; bassist Peter Jordan served in the New York Dolls. Eight of the album's 11 tunes are Xavier originals -- clever, catchy soul workouts. Though he obviously tries hard, Xavier's voice fails to bring much soul or personality to his own songs. The rhythm section has neither a snappy soul syncopation nor a propulsive punk staccato. Instead, it muddles along somewhere in between. The record's most satisfying music comes from the guests, the Uptown Horns.
How can the Nitecaps get a major label for this pale imitation of Memphis soul when Billy Price can't get one for the real thing? Easy: The Nitecaps live in Manhattan and Price lives in Pittsburgh. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM THE NITECAPS -- Go to the Line (Sire 23756-1). THE SHOW THE NITECAPS, Saturday at 10 and midnight at the 9:30 Club.